Reviving the carbohydrate economy via multi-product lignocellulose biorefineries

  • Y.-H. Percival ZhangEmail author


Before the industrial revolution, the global economy was largely based on living carbon from plants. Now the economy is mainly dependent on fossil fuels (dead carbon). Biomass is the only sustainable bioresource that can provide sufficient transportation fuels and renewable materials at the same time. Cellulosic ethanol production from less costly and most abundant lignocellulose is confronted with three main obstacles: (1) high processing costs ($/gallon of ethanol), (2) huge capital investment ($∼4–10/gallon of annual ethanol production capacity), and (3) a narrow margin between feedstock and product prices. Both lignocellulose fractionation technology and effective co-utilization of acetic acid, lignin and hemicellulose will be vital to the realization of profitable lignocellulose biorefineries, since co-product revenues would increase the margin up to 6.2-fold, where all purified lignocellulose co-components have higher selling prices (>∼1.0/kg) than ethanol (∼0.5/kg of ethanol). Isolation of large amounts of lignocellulose components through lignocellulose fractionation would stimulate R&D in lignin and hemicellulose applications, as well as promote new markets for lignin- and hemicellulose-derivative products. Lignocellulose resource would be sufficient to replace significant fractionations (e.g., 30%) of transportation fuels through liquid biofuels, internal combustion engines in the short term, and would provide 100% transportation fuels by sugar–hydrogen–fuel cell systems in the long term.


Biorefinery Cellulosic ethanol Hemicellulose Lignin Lignocellulose Lignocellulose fractionation Renewable material 



This work was made possible with the support of the Biological Systems Engineering Department of Virginia Tech. The authors are grateful for the support from ACS Petroleum Research Foundation (PRF #45348-G4) and USDA CSREES (2006-38909-03484).


  1. 1.
    Hoffert MI, Caldeira K, Benford G, Criswell DR, Green C; Herzog H, Jain AK, Kheshgi HS, Lackner KS, Lewis JS, Lightfoot HD, Manheimer W, Mankins JC, Mauel ME, Perkins LJ, Schlesinger ME, Volk TA, Wigley TM (2002) Advanced technology paths to global climate stability: energy for a greenhouse planet. Science 298:981–987CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Whitesides GM, Crabtree GW (2007) Don’t forget long-term fundamental research in energy. Science 315:796–798CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lal R (2004) Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science 304:1623–1627CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Eissen M, Metzger JO, Schmidt E, Schneidewind U (2002) 10 years after rio-concepts on the contribution of chemistry to a sustainable development. Angew Chem Int Ed Eng 41:415–436Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kheshgi HS, Prince RC, Marland G (2000) The potential of biomass fuels in the context of global climate change: focus on transportation fuels. Annu Rev Energy Environ 25:199–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Galbe M, Zacchi G (2002) A review of the production of ethanol from softwood. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 59:618–628CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Pimental D, Patzek TW (2005) Ethanol production using corn, switchgrass, and wood; biodiesel production using soybean and sunflower. Nat Resour Res 14:65–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    McLaren JS (2005) Crop biotechnology provides an opportunity to develop a sustainable future. Trends Biotechnol 23:339–342CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    A billion-ton feedstocks supply for a bioenergy and bioproducts industry, 2005.
  10. 10.
    Wyman CE (2003) Potential synergies and challenges in refining cellulosic biomass to fuels, chemicals, and power. Biotechnol Prog 19:254–262CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bush GW (2007) State of the Union 2007.
  12. 12.
    Himmel ME, Ding SY, Johnson DK, Adney WS, Nimlos MR, Brady JW, Foust TD (2007) Biomass recalcitrance: engineering plants and enzymes for biofuels production. Science 315:804–807CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hahn-Hagerdal B, Galbe M, Gorwa-Grauslund MF, Liden G, Zacchi G (2006) Bio-ethanol—the fuel of tomorrow from the residues of today. Trends Biotechnol 24(12):549–556CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Reddy N, Yang Y (2005) Biofibers from agricultural byproducts for industrial applications. Trends Biotechnol 23:22–27CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Zhang YHP, Lynd LR (2004) Toward an aggregated understanding of enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose: noncomplexed cellulase systems. Biotechnol Bioeng 88:797–824CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kamm B, Kamm M (2004) Principles of biorefineries. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 64:137–145CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Das H, Singh SK (2004) Useful byproducts from cellulosic wastes of agriculture and food industry—a critical appraisal. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 44:77–89CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mabee WE, Gregg DJ, Saddler JN (2005) Assessing the emerging biorefinery sector in Canada. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 121–124:765–778CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Qu Y, Zhu M, Liu K, Bao X, Lin J (2006) Studies on cellulosic ethanol production for sustainable supply of liquid fuel in China. Biotechnol J 1:1235–1240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    The White House National Economic Council (2006) Advanced Energy InitiativeGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Schlamadinger B, Marland G (1996) The role of forest and bioenergy strategies in the global carbon cycle. Biomass Bioenerg 10:275–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hall DO, Rosillo-Calle F, Williams RH, Woods J (1993) Biomass for energy: supply prospects. In: Johansson TB, Kelly H, Reddy AKN, Willian RH (eds) Renewable energy: sources for fuels and electricity. Island, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Gao K, McKinley KR (1994) Use of macroalgae for marine biomass production and CO2 remediation. J Appl Phycol 6:45–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Watson AJ, Bakker DCE, Ridgwell AJ, Boyd PW, Law CS (2000) Effect of iron supply on Southern Ocean CO2 uptake and implications for glacial atmospheric CO2. Nature 407:730–733CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Zhang YHP, Himmel M, Mielenz JR (2006) Outlook for cellulase improvement: screening and selection strategies. Biotechnol Adv 24:452–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Zhang YHP, Lynd LR (2006) A functionally based model for hydrolysis of cellulose by fungal cellulase. Biotechnol Bioeng 94:888–898CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Zhang YHP, Cui JB, Lynd LR, Kuang LR (2006) A transition from cellulose swelling to cellulose dissolution by o-phosphoric acid: Evidences from enzymatic hydrolysis and supramolecular structure. Biomacromolecules 7:644–648CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hong J, Ye X, Zhang YHP (2007) Quantitative determination of cellulose accessibility to cellulase based on adsorption of a nonhydrolytic fusion protein containing CBM and GFP with its applications. Langmuir 23:12535–12540CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Zhang YHP, Ding SY, Mielenz JR, Elander R, Laser M, Himmel M, McMillan J D, Lynd LR (2007) Fractionating recalcitrant lignocellulose at modest reaction conditions. Biotechnol Bioeng 97:214–223CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Pan X, Xie D, Gilkes N, Gregg DJ, Saddler JN (2005) Strategies to enhance the enzymatic hydrolysis of pretreated softwood with high residual lignin content. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 124:1069–1080CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ding SY, Himmel ME (2006) The maize primary cell wall microfibril: A new model derived from direct visualization. J Agric Food Chem 54:597–606CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Beg QK, Kapoor M, Mahajan L, Hoondal GS (2001) Microbial xylanases and their industrial applications: a review. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 56:326–338CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    de Vries RP, Visser J (2001) Aspergillus enzymes involved in degradation of plant cell wall polysaccharides. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 65:497–522CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ragauskas AJ, Williams CK, Davison BH, Britovsek G, Cairney J, Eckert CA, Frederick WJ Jr, Hallett JP, Leak DJ, Liotta CL, Mielenz JR, Murphy R, Templer R, Tschaplinski T (2006) The path forward for biofuels and biomaterials. Science 311:484–489CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Wyman CE, Dale BE, Elander RT, Holtzapple M, Ladisch MR, Lee YY (2005) Coordinated development of leading biomass pretreatment technologies. Bioresour Technol 96:1959–1966CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Demain AL, Newcomb M, Wu JHD (2005) Cellulase, clostridia, and ethanol. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 69:124–154CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Breaking the biological barriers to cellulosic ethanol: a joint research agenda. A research roadmap resulting from the biomass to biofuels workshop.
  38. 38.
    Roadmap for biomass technologies in the United States.
  39. 39.
    Wooley R, Ruth M, Glassner D, Sheehan J (1999) Process design and costing of bioethanol technology: a tool for determining the status and direction of research and development. Biotechnol Prog 15:794–803CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Wyman CE, Dale BE, Elander RT, Holtzapple M, Ladisch MR, Lee YY (2005) Comparative sugar recovery data from laboratory scale application of leading pretreatment technologies to corn stover. Biores Technol 96:2026–2032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Eggeman T, Elander RT (2005) Process and economic analysis of pretreatment technologies. Bioresour Technol 96:2019–2025CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Cundiff JS, Dias N, Sherali HD (1997) A linear programming approach for designing a herbaceous biomass delivery system. Bioresour Technol 59:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Faix O (1992) New aspects of lignin utilization in large amounts. Papier 12:733–740Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Lora JH, Glasser WG (2002) Recent industrial applications of lignin: a sustainable alternative to nonrenewable materials. J Polym Environ 10:39–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Arato C, Pye EK, Gjennestad G (2005) The lignol approach to biorefining of woody biomass to produce ethanol and chemicals. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 121/124:871–882CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Pan X, Gilkes N, Kadla J, Pye K, Saka S, Gregg D, Ehara K, Xie D, Lam D, Saddler J (2006) Bioconversion of hybrid poplar to ethanol and co-products using an organosolv fractionation process: optimization of process yields. Biotechnol Bioeng 94:851–861CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Eckert C, Liottaabc C, Ragauskasb A, Hallettac J, Kitchensac C, Hillac E, Draucker L (2007) Tunable solvents for fine chemicals from the biorefinery. Green Chem 9:545–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Sudo K, Shimizu K (1992) A new carbon fiber from lignin. J Appl Polym Sci 44:127–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Kadla JF, Kubo S, Venditti RA, Gilbert RD, Compere AL, Griffith W (2002) Lignin-based carbon fibers for composite fiber applications. Carbon 40:2913–2920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Shimizu K, Sudo K, Ono H, Ishihara M, Fujii T, Hishiyama S (1998) Integrated process for total utilization of wood components by steam-explosion pretreatment. Biomass Bioenerg 14:195–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Grondahl M, Eriksson L, Gatenholm P (2004) Material properties of plasticized hardwood xylans for potential application as oxygen barrier films. Biomacromolecules 5:1528–1535CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Hartman J, Albertsson AC, Lindblad MS, Sjöberg J (2006) Oxygen barrier materials from renewable sources: material properties of softwood hemicellulose-based films. J Appl Polym Sci 100:2985–2991CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Davis ME, Maxwell CV, Brown DC, de Rodas BZ, Johnson ZB, Kegley EB, Hellwig DH, Dvorak RA (2002) Effect of dietary mannan oligosaccharides and (or) pharmacological additions of copper sulfate on growth performance and immunocompetence of weanling and growing/finishing pigs. J Anim Sci 80:2887–2894CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Fernandez F, HintonM Van Gils B (2002) Dietary mannan-oligosaccharides and their effect on chicken caecal microflora in relation to Salmonella Enteritidis colonization. Avia Pathol 31:49–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Mussatto SI, Dragone G, Roberto IC (2005) Kinetic behavior of Candida guilliermondii yeast during xylitol production from brewer’s spent grain hemicellulosic hydrolysate. Biotechnol Prog 21:1352–1356CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Walther T, Hensirisak P, Agblevor FA (2001) The influence of aeration and hemicellulosic sugars on xylitol production by Candida tropicalis. Bioresour Technol 76:213–220CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Buhner J, Agblevor FA (2004) Effect of detoxification of dilute-acid corn fiber hydrolysate on xylitol production. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 119:13–30CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Peldyak J, Makinen KK (2002) Xylitol for caries prevention. J Dent Hyg 76:276–285PubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Lynch H, Milgrom P (2003) Xylitol and dental caries: an overview for clinicians. J Calif Dent Assoc 31:205–209PubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Kamm B, Kamm M, Schmidt M, Hirth T, Schulze M (2006) Lignocellulose-based chemical products and product family trees. In: Kamm B, Fruder PR, Kamm M (eds) Biorefineries—industrial processes, products. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim pp 95–149Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Zhang M, Eddy C, Deanda K, Finkestein M, Picataggio S (1995) Metabolic engineering of a pentose metabolism pathway in ethanologenic Zymomonas Mobilis. Science 267:240–243CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Hahn-Hagerdal B, Galbe M, Gorwa-Grauslund MF, Liden G, Zacchi G (2006) Bio-ethanol—the fuel of tomorrow from the residues of today. Trends Biotechnol 24:549–556CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Wyman CE (2007) What is (and is not) vital to advancing cellulosic ethanol. Trends Biotechnol 25:153–157CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    National Research Council (2000) Biobased industrial products: research and commercialization priorities. National Academic Press, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Fengel D, Wegener G (1984) Wood: chemistry, ultrastructure, reactions. Walter de Gruyter, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  66. 66.
    Ladisch MR, Ladisch CM, Tsao GT (1978) Cellulose to sugars: new path gives quantitative yield. Science 201:743–745CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Swatloski RP, Spear SK, Holbrey JD, Rogers RD (2002) Dissolution of cellulose with ionic liquids. J Am Chem Soc 124:4974–4975CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Dadi AP, Varanasi S, Schall CA (2006) Enhancement of cellulose saccharification kinetics using an ionic liquid pretreatment step. Biotechnol Bioeng 95:904–910CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    Zhu S, Wu Y, Chen Q, Yu Z, Wang C, Jin S, Ding Y, Wu G (2006) Dissolution of cellulose with ionic liquids and its application: a mini-review. Green Chem 8:325–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. 70.
    Zhang YHP, Lynd LR (2005) Determination of the number-average degree of polymerization of cellodextrins and cellulose with application to enzymatic hydrolysis. Biomacromolecules 6:1510–1515CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Zhang YHP, Evans BR, Mielenz JR, Hopkins RC, Adams MWW (2007) High-yield hydrogen production from starch and water by a synthetic enzymatic pathway. PLoS ONE 2:e456CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Industrial Microbiology 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biological Systems Engineering DepartmentVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS)Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations