Methods in Molecular Biology Volume 581, 2009, pp 61-77
Date: 08 Aug 2009

Lignocellulosic Biomass Pretreatment Using AFEX

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Although cellulose is the most abundant organic molecule, its susceptibility to hydrolysis is restricted due to the rigid lignin and hemicellulose protection surrounding the cellulose micro fibrils. Therefore, an effective pretreatment is necessary to liberate the cellulose from the lignin–hemicellulose seal and also reduce cellulosic crystallinity. Some of the available pretreatment techniques include acid hydrolysis, steam explosion, ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX), alkaline wet oxidation, and hot water pretreatment. Besides reducing lignocellulosic recalcitrance, an ideal pretreatment must also minimize formation of degradation products that inhibit subsequent hydrolysis and fermentation. AFEX is an important pretreatment technology that utilizes both physical (high temperature and pressure) and chemical (ammonia) processes to achieve effective pretreatment. Besides increasing the surface accessibility for hydrolysis, AFEX promotes cellulose decrystallization and partial hemicellulose depolymerization and reduces the lignin recalcitrance in the treated biomass. Theoretical glucose yield upon optimal enzymatic hydrolysis on AFEX-treated corn stover is approximately 98%. Furthermore, AFEX offers several unique advantages over other pretreatments, which include near complete recovery of the pretreatment chemical (ammonia), nutrient addition for microbial growth through the remaining ammonia on pretreated biomass, and not requiring a washing step during the process which facilitates high solid loading hydrolysis. This chapter provides a detailed practical procedure to perform AFEX, design the reactor, determine the mass balances, and conduct the process safely.