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Flexible biorefinery for producing fermentation sugars, lignin and pulp from corn stover

Kadam, Kiran L., Chin, Chim Y., Brown, Lawrence W.
Journal of industrial microbiology & biotechnology 2008 v.35 no.5 pp. 331
plant residues, corn stover, biomass, hemicellulose, sugars, lignin, dissolving pulp, biorefining, enzymatic hydrolysis, papermaking, adhesives, xylose
A new biorefining process is presented that embodies green processing and sustainable development. In the spirit of a true biorefinery, the objective is to convert agricultural residues and other biomass feedstocks into value-added products such as fuel ethanol, dissolving pulp, and lignin for resin production. The continuous biomass fractionation process yields a liquid stream rich in hemicellulosic sugars, a lignin-rich liquid stream, and a solid cellulose stream. This paper generally discusses potential applications of the three streams and specifically provides results on the evaluation of the cellulose stream from corn stover as a source of fermentation sugars and specialty pulp. Enzymatic hydrolysis of this relatively pure cellulose stream requires significantly lower enzyme loadings because of minimal enzyme deactivation from nonspecific binding to lignin. A correlation was shown to exist between lignin removal efficiency and enzymatic digestibility. The cellulose produced was also demonstrated to be a suitable replacement for hardwood pulp, especially in the top ply of a linerboard. Also, the relatively pure nature of the cellulose renders it suitable as raw material for making dissolving pulp. This pulping approach has significantly smaller environmental footprint compared to the industry-standard kraft process because no sulfur- or chlorine-containing compounds are used. Although this option needs some minimal post-processing, it produces a higher value commodity than ethanol and, unlike ethanol, does not need extensive processing such as hydrolysis or fermentation. Potential use of low-molecular weight lignin as a raw material for wood adhesive production is discussed as well as its use as cement and feed binder. As a baseline application the hemicellulosic sugars captured in the hydrolyzate liquor can be used to produce ethanol, but potential utilization of xylose for xylitol fermentation is also feasible. Markets and values of these applications are juxtaposed with market penetration and saturation.