, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 351-362
Date: 07 Jan 2012

Saccharification of Brazilian sisal pulp: evaluating the impact of mercerization on non-hydrolyzed pulp and hydrolysis products

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Cultivation of sisal, a plant with a short growth cycle, is highly productive in Brazil. This work is part of extensive research in which sisal is valued. In these studies, sisal fibers are used in the preparation of bio-based composites and in the derivatization of the pulp, including posterior preparation of films. This study aimed to examine the use of sisal pulp in the production of bioethanol, which can potentially be a high efficiency process because of the cellulose content of this fiber. A previous paper addressed the hydrolysis of sisal pulp using sulfuric acid as a catalyst. In the present study, the influence of the mercerization process on the acid hydrolysis of sisal pulp was evaluated. Mercerization was achieved in a 20% wt NaOH solution, and the cellulosic pulp was suspended and vigorously mixed for 1, 2 and 3 h, at 50 °C. The previously characterized mercerized pulps were hydrolyzed (100 °C, 30% H2SO4, v/v), and the results are compared with those obtained for unmercerized pulp (described in a companion paper). The starting sample was characterized by viscometry, α-cellulose content, crystallinity index and scanning electron microscopy. During the reactions, aliquots were withdrawn, and the liquor was analyzed by HPLC. The residual pulps (non-hydrolyzed) were also characterized by the techniques described for the initial sample. The results revealed that pretreatment decreases the polyoses content as well as causes a decrease of up to 23% in the crystallinity and up to 21% in the average molar mass of cellulose after 3 h of mercerization. The mercerization process proved to be very important to achieve the final target. Under the same reaction conditions (30% and 100 °C, 6 h), the hydrolysis of mercerized pulp generated yields of up to 50% more glucose. The results of this paper will be compared with the results of subsequent studies obtained using other acids, and enzymes, as catalysts.