Investigating Mass Transport Limitations on Xylan Hydrolysis During Dilute Acid Pretreatment of Poplar

Ashutosh Mittal, Bryon Donohoe, John Yarbrough, Michael Himmel, Heidi Pilath, David Johnson, Yves Parent, Mark Nimlos, Siddharth Chatterjee

Research output: NRELPoster


Mass transport limitations could be an impediment to achieving high sugar yields during biomass pretreatment and thus be a critical factor in the economics of biofuels production. The objective of this work was to study the mass transfer restrictions imposed by the structure of biomass on the hydrolysis of xylan during dilute acid pretreatment of biomass. Mass transfer effects were studied by pretreating poplar wood at particle sizes ranging from 10 micrometers to 10 mm. This work showed a significant reduction in the rate of xylan hydrolysis in poplar when compared to the intrinsic rate of hydrolysis for isolated xylan that is possible in the absence of mass transfer. In poplar samples we observed no significant difference in the rates of xylan hydrolysis over more than two orders of magnitude in particle size. It appears that no additional mass transport restrictions are introduced by increasing particle size from 10 micrometers to 10 mm. This work suggests that the rates of xylan hydrolysis in biomass particles are limited primarily by the diffusion of hydrolysis products out of plant cell walls. A mathematical description is presented to describe the kinetics of xylan hydrolysis that includes transport of the hydrolysis products through biomass into the bulk solution. The modeling results show that the effective diffusion coefficient of the hydrolysis products in the cell wall is several orders of magnitude smaller than typical values in other applications signifying the role of plant cell walls in offering resistance to diffusion of the hydrolysis products.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NamePresented at the 36th Symposium on Biotechnology Fuels and Chemicals, 28 April - 1 May 2014, Clearwater Beach, Florida

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-2700-60870


  • dilute acid pretreatment
  • kinetics
  • mass transfer
  • modeling
  • oligomers
  • transmission electron microscopy
  • xylan
  • xylose


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