Considering Water Availability and the Effect of Solute Concentration on High Solids Saccharification of Lignocellulosic Biomass

Michael J. Selig, Chia Wen Carmen Hsieh, Lisbeth G. Thygesen, Michael E. Himmel, Claus Felby, Stephen R. Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus Citations


Milliliter scale (ligno)cellulose saccharifications suggest general solute concentration and its impact on water availability plays a significant role in detrimental effects associated with high solids lignocellulose conversions. A microtumbler developed to enable free-fall mixing at dry solids loadings up to 35% (w/w) repeatedly produced known detrimental conversion trends on cellulose, xylan and pretreated lignocellulose with commercial enzymes. Despite this, high concentrations of insoluble nonhydrolysable dextrans did not depress saccharification extents in 5% (w/w) cellulose slurries suggesting mass transfer limitations may not significantly limit hydrolysis extents at high solids loadings. Interestingly, cellulose saccharification by purified cellulases showed increased conversions with increasing dry solids loadings. This prompted investigations into impacts the concentration of soluble species, such as sugar alcohols, low molecular weight enzyme preparation components, and monomer hydrolysis products, have on the hydrolysis environment. Such substances significantly depress conversion rates and were shown to correlatively lower water activity (Aw) in the hydrolysis environment while high insoluble solids concentrations did not. Furthermore, low-field NMR on concentrated slurries of insoluble complex carbohydrates, including the nonhydrolysable dextrans, showed all solids constrained water significantly more than high concentrations of soluble species (inhibitory) suggesting water constraint may not be as problematic an issue at high solids loadings compared to the availability of water in the system. Additionally, the introduction of soluble species lessened overall water constraint in high solids systems and appears to shift the distribution of water away from insoluble surfaces. This is potentially a critical issue for industrial processes operating at high dry solids levels.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1478-1490
Number of pages13
JournalBiotechnology Progress
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2012

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-53743


  • cellulose
  • high solids
  • lignocellulose
  • saccharification
  • water activity


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