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Open Access Research

Aiming for the complete utilization of sugar-beet pulp: Examination of the effects of mild acid and hydrothermal pretreatment followed by enzymatic digestion

Stefan Kühnel, Henk A Schols and Harry Gruppen*

Author Affiliations

Laboratory of Food Chemistry, Wageningen University, Bomenweg 2, 6703 HD Wageningen, the Netherlands

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2011, 4:14  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-4-14

Published: 31 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Biomass use for the production of bioethanol or platform chemicals requires efficient breakdown of biomass to fermentable monosaccharides. Lignocellulosic feedstocks often require physicochemical pretreatment before enzymatic hydrolysis can begin. The optimal pretreatment can be different for different feedstocks, and should not lead to biomass destruction or formation of toxic products.

Methods

We examined the influence of six mild sulfuric acid or water pretreatments at different temperatures on the enzymatic degradability of sugar-beet pulp (SBP).

Results

We found that optimal pretreatment at 140°C of 15 minutes in water was able to solubilize 60% w/w of the total carbohydrates present, mainly pectins. More severe treatments led to the destruction of the solubilized sugars, and the subsequent production of the sugar-degradation products furfural, hydroxymethylfurfural, acetic acid and formic acid. The pretreated samples were successfully degraded enzymatically with an experimental cellulase preparation.

Conclusions

In this study, we found that pretreatment of SBP greatly facilitated the subsequent enzymatic degradation within economically feasible time ranges and enzyme levels. In addition, pretreatment of SBP can be useful to fractionate functional ingredients such as arabinans and pectins from cellulose. We found that the optimal combined severity factor to enhance the enzymatic degradation of SBP was between log R'0 = -2.0 and log R'0 = -1.5. The optimal pretreatment and enzyme treatment solubilized up to 80% of all sugars present in the SBP, including ≥90% of the cellulose.