Characterization of Pilot-Scale Dilute Acid Pretreatment Performance using Deacetylated Corn Stover

Joseph Shekiro, Erik Kuhn, Nicholas Nagle, Richard Elander, Daniel Schell, Melvin Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus Citations


Background: Dilute acid pretreatment is a promising process technology for the deconstruction of low-lignin lignocellulosic biomass, capable of producing high yields of hemicellulosic sugars and enhancing enzymatic yields of glucose as part of a biomass-to-biofuels process. However, while it has been extensively studied, most work has historically been conducted at relatively high acid concentrations of 1 - 4% (weight/weight). Reducing the effective acid loading in pretreatment has the potential to reduce chemical costs both for pretreatment and subsequent neutralization. Additionally, if acid loadings are sufficiently low, capital requirements associated with reactor construction may be significantly reduced due to the relaxation of requirements for exotic alloys. Despite these benefits, past efforts have had difficulty obtaining high process yields at low acid loadings without supplementation of additional unit operations, such as mechanical refining. Results: Recently, we optimized the dilute acid pretreatment of deacetylated corn stover at low acid loadings in a 1-ton per day horizontal pretreatment reactor. This effort included more than 25 pilot-scale pretreatment experiments executed at reactor temperatures ranging from 150 - 170°C, residence times of 10 - 20 minutes and hydrolyzer sulfuric acid concentrations between 0.15 - 0.30% (weight/weight). In addition to characterizing the process yields achieved across the reaction space, the optimization identified a pretreatment reaction condition that achieved total xylose yields from pretreatment of 73.5% ± 1.5% with greater than 97% xylan component balance closure across a series of five runs at the same condition. Feedstock reactivity at this reaction condition after bench-scale high solids enzymatic hydrolysis was 77%, prior to the inclusion of any additional conversion that may occur during subsequent fermentation. Conclusions: This study effectively characterized a range of pretreatment reaction conditions using deacetylated corn stover at low acid loadings and identified an optimum reaction condition was selected and used in a series of integrated pilot scale cellulosic ethanol production campaigns. Additionally, several issues exist to be considered in future pretreatment experiments in continuous reactor systems, including the formation of char within the reactor, as well as practical issues with feeding herbaceous feedstock into pressurized systems.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number23
Number of pages10
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-61101


  • Deacetylated corn stover
  • Dilute acid
  • Lignocellulosic pretreatment
  • Pilot
  • Xylose


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