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Cellulosic ethanol production: Progress, challenges and strategies for solutions

Liu, Chen-Guang, Xiao, Yi, Xia, Xiao-Xia, Zhao, Xin-Qing, Peng, Liangcai, Srinophakun, Penjit, Bai, Feng-Wu
Biotechnology advances 2019 v.37 no.3 pp. 491-504
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Zymomonas mobilis, bioethanol, biomass, biosynthesis, brewers yeast, cell walls, cellulose, distillation, ecosystem services, energy, engineering, enzymatic hydrolysis, ethanol, ethanol fermentation, ethanol production, feedstocks, hemicellulose, hydrolysis, lignin, lignocellulose, mixing, pentoses, saccharification, system optimization
Lignocellulosic biomass is a sustainable feedstock for fuel ethanol production, but it is characterized by low mass and energy densities, and distributed production with relatively small scales is more suitable for cellulosic ethanol, which can better balance cost for the feedstock logistics. Lignocellulosic biomass is recalcitrant to degradation, and pretreatment is needed, but more efficient pretreatment technologies should be developed based on an in-depth understanding of its biosynthesis and regulation for engineering plant cell walls with less recalcitrance. Simultaneous saccharification and co-fermentation has been developed for cellulosic ethanol production, but the concept has been mistakenly defined, since the saccharification and co-fermentation are by no means simultaneous. Lignin is unreactive, which not only occupies reactor spaces during the enzymatic hydrolysis of the cellulose component and ethanol fermentation thereafter, but also requires extra mixing, making high solid loading difficult for lignocellulosic biomass and ethanol titers substantially compromised, which consequently increases energy consumption for ethanol distillation and stillage discharge, presenting another challenge for cellulosic ethanol production. Pentose sugars released from the hydrolysis of hemicelluloses are not fermentable with Saccharomyces cerevisiae used for ethanol production from sugar- and starch-based feedstocks, and engineering the brewing yeast and other ethanologenic species such as Zymomonas mobilis with pentose metabolism has been performed within the past decades. However strategies for the simultaneous co-fermentation of pentose and hexose sugars that have been pursued overwhelmingly for strain development might be modified for robust ethanol production. Finally, unit integration and system optimization are needed to maximize economic and environmental benefits for cellulosic ethanol production. In this article, we critically reviewed updated progress, and highlighted challenges and strategies for solutions.