A novel hybrid organosolv: Steam explosion method for the efficient fractionation and pretreatment of birch biomass
Journal article, 2018

Background: The main role of pretreatment is to reduce the natural biomass recalcitrance and thus enhance saccharification yield. A further prerequisite for efficient utilization of all biomass components is their efficient fractionation into well-defined process streams. Currently available pretreatment methods only partially fulfill these criteria. Steam explosion, for example, excels as a pretreatment method but has limited potential for fractionation, whereas organosolv is excellent for delignification but offers poor biomass deconstruction. Results: In this article, a hybrid method combining the cooking and fractionation of conventional organosolv pretreatment with the implementation of an explosive discharge of the cooking mixture at the end of pretreatment was developed. The effects of various pretreatment parameters (ethanol content, duration, and addition of sulfuric acid) were evaluated. Pretreatment of birch at 200 °C with 60% v/v ethanol and 1% w/wbiomassH2SO4was proven to be the most efficient pretreatment condition yielding pretreated solids with 77.9% w/w cellulose, 8.9% w/w hemicellulose, and 7.0 w/w lignin content. Under these conditions, high delignification of 86.2% was demonstrated. The recovered lignin was of high purity, with cellulose and hemicellulose contents not exceeding 0.31 and 3.25% w/w, respectively, and ash to be < 0.17% w/w in all cases, making it suitable for various applications. The pretreated solids presented high saccharification yields, reaching 68% at low enzyme load (6 FPU/g) and complete saccharification at high enzyme load (22.5 FPU/g). Finally, simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) at 20% w/w solids yielded an ethanol titer of 80 g/L after 192 h, corresponding to 90% of the theoretical maximum. Conclusions: The novel hybrid method developed in this study allowed for the efficient fractionation of birch biomass and production of pretreated solids with high cellulose and low lignin contents. Moreover, the explosive discharge at the end of pretreatment had a positive effect on enzymatic saccharification, resulting in high hydrolyzability of the pretreated solids and elevated ethanol titers in the following high-gravity SSF. To the best of our knowledge, the ethanol concentration obtained with this method is the highest so far for birch biomass.


Inhibitor-free biomass

Cellulose-enriched biomass

Hybrid organosolv-steam explosion

Cellic CTec2






Leonidas Matsakas

Luleå University of Technology

Christos Nitsos

Luleå University of Technology

Vijayendran Raghavendran

University of Sheffield

Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology

Olga Yakimenko

Luleå University of Technology

Gustav Persson

Chalmers, Physics, Eva Olsson Group

Eva Olsson

Chalmers, Physics, Eva Olsson Group

Ulrika Rova

Luleå University of Technology

Lisbeth Olsson

Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology

P. Christakopoulos

Luleå University of Technology

Biotechnology for Biofuels

1754-6834 (eISSN)

Vol. 11 1 160

Subject Categories

Renewable Bioenergy Research

Chemical Process Engineering






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Latest update

7/2/2018 2