Open Access Research

Alkaline peroxide pretreatment of corn stover: effects of biomass, peroxide, and enzyme loading and composition on yields of glucose and xylose

Goutami Banerjee1, Suzana Car1, John S Scott-Craig1, David B Hodge12 and Jonathan D Walton13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Energy, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

2 Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

3 Department of Energy, Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2011, 4:16  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-4-16

Published: 9 June 2011



Pretreatment is a critical step in the conversion of lignocellulose to fermentable sugars. Although many pretreatment processes are currently under investigation, none of them are entirely satisfactory in regard to effectiveness, cost, or environmental impact. The use of hydrogen peroxide at pH 11.5 (alkaline hydrogen peroxide (AHP)) was shown by Gould and coworkers to be an effective pretreatment of grass stovers and other plant materials in the context of animal nutrition and ethanol production. Our earlier experiments indicated that AHP performed well when compared against two other alkaline pretreatments. Here, we explored several key parameters to test the potential of AHP for further improvement relevant to lignocellulosic ethanol production.


The effects of biomass loading, hydrogen peroxide loading, residence time, and pH control were tested in combination with subsequent digestion with a commercial enzyme preparation, optimized mixtures of four commercial enzymes, or optimized synthetic mixtures of pure enzymes. AHP pretreatment was performed at room temperature (23°C) and atmospheric pressure, and after AHP pretreatment the biomass was neutralized with HCl but not washed before enzyme digestion. Standard enzyme digestion conditions were 0.2% glucan loading, 15 mg protein/g glucan, and 48 h digestion at 50°C. Higher pretreatment biomass loadings (10% to 20%) gave higher monomeric glucose (Glc) and xylose (Xyl) yields than the 2% loading used in earlier studies. An H2O2 loading of 0.25 g/g biomass was almost as effective as 0.5 g/g, but 0.125 g/g was significantly less effective. Optimized mixtures of four commercial enzymes substantially increased post-AHP-pretreatment enzymatic hydrolysis yields at all H2O2 concentrations compared to any single commercial enzyme. At a pretreatment biomass loading of 10% and an H2O2 loading of 0.5 g/g biomass, an optimized commercial mixture at total protein loadings of 8 or 15 mg/g glucan gave monomeric Glc yields of 83% or 95%, respectively. Yields of Glc and Xyl after pretreatment at a low hydrogen peroxide loading (0.125 g H2O2/g biomass) could be improved by extending the pretreatment residence time to 48 h and readjusting the pH to 11.5 every 6 h during the pretreatment. A Glc yield of 77% was obtained using a pretreatment of 15% biomass loading, 0.125 g H2O2/g biomass, and 48 h with pH adjustment, followed by digestion with an optimized commercial enzyme mixture at an enzyme loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan.


Alkaline peroxide is an effective pretreatment for corn stover. Particular advantages are the use of reagents with low environmental impact and avoidance of special reaction chambers. Reasonable yields of monomeric Glc can be obtained at an H2O2 concentration one-quarter of that used in previous AHP research. Additional improvements in the AHP process, such as peroxide stabilization, peroxide recycling, and improved pH control, could lead to further improvements in AHP pretreatment.