Development of a low-cost cellulase production process using Trichoderma reesei for Brazilian biorefineries

Simo Ellilä (Corresponding Author), Lucas Fonseca, Cristiane Uchima, Junio Cota, Gustafo Henrique Goldman, Markku Saloheimo, Vera Sacon, Matti Siika-Aho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Background: During the past few years, the first industrial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants have been inaugurated. Although the performance of the commercial cellulase enzymes used in this process has greatly improved over the past decade, cellulases still represent a very significant operational cost. Depending on the region, transport of cellulases from a central production facility to a biorefinery may significantly add to enzyme cost. The aim of the present study was to develop a simple, cost-efficient cellulase production process that could be employed locally at a Brazilian sugarcane biorefinery. 
Results: Our work focused on two main topics: growth medium formulation and strain improvement. We evaluated several Brazilian low-cost industrial residues for their potential in cellulase production. Among the solid residues evaluated, soybean hulls were found to display clearly the most desirable characteristics. We engineered a Trichoderma reesei strain to secrete cellulase in the presence of repressing sugars, enabling the use of sugarcane molasses as an additional carbon source. In addition, we added a heterologous ß-glucosidase to improve the performance of the produced enzymes in hydrolysis. Finally, the addition of an invertase gene from Aspegillus niger into our strain allowed it to consume sucrose from sugarcane molasses directly. Preliminary cost analysis showed that the overall process can provide for very low-cost enzyme with good hydrolysis performance on industrially pre-treated sugarcane straw.
Conclusions: In this study, we showed that with relatively few genetic modifications and the right growth medium it is possible to produce considerable amounts of well-performing cellulase at very low cost in Brazil using T. reesei. With further enhancements and optimization, such a system could provide a viable alternative to delivered commercial cellulases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • on-site
  • cellulase
  • enzyme
  • Trichoderma reesei
  • sugarcane
  • molasses
  • Soybean hulls
  • Brazil
  • biorefinery
  • cellulosic ethanol

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