Ethanol can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass using steam pretreatment followed by enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. The sugar yields, from both hemicellulose and cellulose are critical parameters for an economically-feasible ethanol production process. This study shows that a near-theoretical glucose yield (96-104%) from acid-catalysed steam pretreated corn stover can be obtained if xylanases are used to supplement cellulases during hydrolysis. Xylanases hydrolyse residual hemicellulose, thereby improving the access of enzymes to cellulose. Under these conditions, xylose yields reached 70-74%. When pre-treatment severity was reduced by using autocatalysis instead of acid-catalysed steam pretreatment, xylose yields were increased to 80-86%. Partial delignification of pretreated material was also evaluated as a way to increase the overall sugar yield. The overall glucose yield increased slightly due to delignification but the overall xylose yield decreased due to hemicellulose loss in the delignification step. The data also demonstrate that steam pretreatment is a robust process: corn stover from Europe and North America showed only minor differences in behaviour. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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