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Lignosulfonate and elevated pH can enhance enzymatic saccharification of lignocelluloses

ZJ Wang12, TQ Lan23 and JY Zhu2*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Lab of Paper Science & Technology, Shandong Polytechnic University, Jinan, China

2 US Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, WI, USA

3 College of Light Industry and Food Sciences, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, China

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:9  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-9

Published: 28 January 2013



Nonspecific (nonproductive) binding (adsorption) of cellulase by lignin has been identified as a key barrier to reduce cellulase loading for economical sugar and biofuel production from lignocellulosic biomass. Sulfite Pretreatment to Overcome Recalcitrance of Lignocelluloses (SPORL) is a relatively new process, but demonstrated robust performance for sugar and biofuel production from woody biomass especially softwoods in terms of yields and energy efficiencies. This study demonstrated the role of lignin sulfonation in enhancing enzymatic saccharification of lignocelluloses – lignosulfonate from SPORL can improve enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocelluloses, contrary to the conventional belief that lignin inhibits enzymatic hydrolysis due to nonspecific binding of cellulase.


The study found that lignosulfonate from SPORL pretreatment and from a commercial source inhibits enzymatic hydrolysis of pure cellulosic substrates at low concentrations due to nonspecific binding of cellulase. Surprisingly, the reduction in enzymatic saccharification efficiency of a lignocellulosic substrate was fully recovered as the concentrations of these two lignosulfonates increased. We hypothesize that lignosulfonate serves as a surfactant to enhance enzymatic hydrolysis at higher concentrations and that this enhancement offsets its inhibitive effect from nonspecific binding of cellulase, when lignosulfonate is applied to lignocellulosic solid substrates. Lignosulfonate can block nonspecific binding of cellulase by bound lignin on the solid substrates, in the same manner as a nonionic surfactant, to significantly enhance enzymatic saccharification. This enhancement is linearly proportional to the amount of lignosulfonate applied which is very important to practical applications. For a SPORL-pretreated lodgepole pine solid, 90% cellulose saccharification was achieved at cellulase loading of 13 FPU/g glucan with the application of its corresponding pretreatment hydrolysate coupled with increasing hydrolysis pH to above 5.5 compared with only 51% for the control run without lignosulfonate at pH 5.0. The pH-induced lignin surface modification at pH 5.5 further reduced nonspecific binding of cellulase by lignosulfonate.


The results reported in this study suggest significant advantages for SPORL-pretreatment in terms of reducing water usage and enzyme dosage, and simplifying process integration, i.e., it should eliminate washing of SPORL solid fraction for direct simultaneous enzymatic saccharification and combined fermentation of enzymatic and pretreatment hydrolysates (SSCombF). Elevated pH 5.5 or higher, rather than the commonly believed optimal and widely practiced pH 4.8-5.0, should be used in conducting enzymatic saccharification of lignocelluloses.

Enzymatic hydrolysis/saccharification; Lignin/lignosulfonate; Nonspecific/nonproductive binding/adsorption; Cellulase enzymes; Pretreatment