Removal of non-structural components from poplar whole-tree chips to enhance hydrolysis and fermentation performance

Hanna Hörhammer, Chang Dou, Rick Gustafson, Azra Suko, Renata Bura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Whole-tree chips will be a likely feedstock for future biorefineries because of their low cost. Non-structural components (NSC), however, represent a significant part of whole-tree chips. The NSC can account for more than 10% of whole-tree poplar mass when the trees are grown in short rotation cycles. The influence of NSC, however, on the production of fuels and chemicals is not well known. In this study, we assessed the impact of NSC removal from poplar whole-tree chips on pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis yields, overall sugar recovery, and fermentation yield. In addition, we evaluated the economics of preprocessing as a new unit operation in the biorefinery. Results: Poplar whole-tree chips were preprocessed by neutral or acidic washing before steam pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. Preprocessing of poplar reduced ash and extractives content as much as 70 and 50%, respectively. The overall sugar yield after pretreatment and hydrolysis was 18-22% higher when the biomass had been preprocessed, which was explained by higher sugar yields in liquid fraction and more efficient enzymatic hydrolysis of the solid fraction. The liquid fraction ethanol fermentation yield was 36-50% higher for the preprocessed biomass. Conclusions: It appears that preprocessing reduced the buffering capacity of the biomass due to ash removal, and thereby improved the enzymatic hydrolysis. Removal of extractives during preprocessing improved the fermentation yield. The economic modeling shows that a preprocessing unit could have significant economic benefits in a biorefinery, where poplar whole-tree chips are used as bioconversion feedstock.

Original languageEnglish
Article number222
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Acidic wash
  • Economic assessment
  • Enzymatic hydrolysis
  • Fermentation
  • Neutral wash
  • Poplar
  • Preprocessing
  • Steam explosion
  • Whole-tree chips


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