EGEE 439
Alternative Fuels from Biomass Sources

6.2 Biochemical structural aspects of lignocelulosic biomass

For Review

To begin this part of Lesson 6, review the Biomass Carbohydrate Tutorial in Lesson 5.2. It will be important to remember all of the terminology for carbohydrates.

So, at this point, we’ve talked a bit about what lignocellulosic biomass is composed of, what various carbohydrates are chemically, and how to pretreat various biomass sources. Now, we will discuss the use of enzymes in biomass conversion, particularly in cellulose conversion. I’ll first introduce you to cellulases, and then we'll look at a model of enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose, and enzymes for hemicellulose and lignin.

For cellulases, we’ll discuss what they are, provide a brief history, look at glycosyl hydrolases, and, finally, cellulases.

The processing of cellulose in lignocellulosic biomass requires several steps (see Figure 6.3). We’ve discussed pretreatment, where cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose are separated. Hemicellulose is broken down to xylose and other sugars, which can then be fermented to ethanol. Lignin is separated out and can be further processed or burned depending on the best economic outcome. The first step of processing is then on the cellulose.

process of producing ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass as described in the text
Figure 6.3: Preview to the process of producing ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass.
Credit: Liao, BEEMS Module B2

Pretreatment helps to decrystallize cellulose. However, it must be further processed to break it down into glucose, as it is glucose (a sugar) that can be fermented to make ethanol, and the liquid product must be further processed to make a concentrated ethanol. So, we are focusing this lesson on enzymatic hydrolysis of starch and cellulose.