Document Type: Research Paper
Department of Biosystems Engineering, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Existing bioethanol operations rely on starch-based substrates, which have been criticized for their need to displace food crops in order to be produced. As an alternative to these first generation biofuels, the use of agricultural residues is being considered to create more environmentally-benign second generation, or cellulosic biofuels. Recalcitrance of these substrates to fermentation requires extensive pre-treatment processes, which often consume more energy than can be extracted from the ethanol that they produce, so one of the priorities in developing cellulosic ethanol is an effective and efficient pre-treatment method. This study examines the use of superheated steam (SS) as a process medium by which wheat straw lignocellulosic material is pre-treated. Following enzymatic hydrolysis, it was found that 47% of the total glucose could be liberated from the substrate, and the optimal conditions for pre-treatment were 15 min in hot water (193 kPa, 119˚C) followed by 2 min in SS. Furthermore, a preliminary relative economic analysis showed that the minimum ethanol selling price (MESP) was comparable to that obtained from steam explosion, a similar process, while energy consumption was 22% less. The conclusion of the study is that SS treatment stands to be a competitive pre-treatment technology to steam explosion.