Impact of Recycling Stillage on Conversion of Dilute Sulfuric Acid Pretreated Corn Stover to Ethanol

Ali Mohagheghi, Daniel J. Schell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus Citations


Both the current corn starch to ethanol industry and the emerging lignocellulosic biofuels industry view recycling of spent fermentation broth or stillage as a method to reduce fresh water use. The objective of this study was to understand the impact of recycling stillage on conversion of corn stover to ethanol. Sugars in a dilute-acid pretreated corn stover hydrolysate were fermented to ethanol by the glucose-xylose fermenting bacteria Zymomonas mobilis 8b. Three serial fermentations were performed at two different initial sugar concentrations using either 10% or 25% of the stillage as makeup water for the next fermentation in the series. Serial fermentations were performed to achieve near steady state concentration of inhibitors and other compounds in the corn stover hydrolysate. Little impact on ethanol yields was seen at sugar concentrations equivalent to pretreated corn stover slurry at 15% (w/w) with 10% recycle of the stillage. However, ethanol yields became progressively poorer as the sugar concentration increased and fraction of the stillage recycled increased. At an equivalent corn stover slurry concentration of 20% with 25% recycled stillage the ethanol yield was only 5%. For this microorganism with dilute-acid pretreated corn stover, recycling a large fraction of the stillage had a significant negative impact on fermentation performance. Although this finding is of concern for biochemical-based lignocellulose conversion processes, other microorganism/pretreatment technology combinations will likely perform differently.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)992-996
Number of pages5
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-510-48236


  • Corn stover
  • Ethanol
  • Recycle water
  • Stillage
  • Zymomonas mobilis


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