Influence of Feedstock Particle Size on Lignocellulose Conversion—A Review
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- Vidal, B.C., Dien, B.S., Ting, K.C. et al. Appl Biochem Biotechnol (2011) 164: 1405. doi:10.1007/s12010-011-9221-3
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Feedstock particle sizing can impact the economics of cellulosic ethanol commercialization through its effects on conversion yield and energy cost. Past studies demonstrated that particle size influences biomass enzyme digestibility to a limited extent. Physical size reduction was able to increase conversion rates to maximum of ≈50%, whereas chemical modification achieved conversions of >70% regardless of biomass particle size. This suggests that (1) mechanical pretreatment by itself is insufficient to attain economically feasible biomass conversion, and, therefore, (2) necessary particle sizing needs to be determined in the context of thermochemical pretreatment employed for lignocellulose conversion. Studies of thermochemical pretreatments that have taken into account particle size as a factor have exhibited a wide range of maximal sizes (i.e., particle sizes below which no increase in pretreatment effectiveness, measured in terms of the enzymatic conversion resulting from the pretreatment, were observed) from <0.15 to 50 mm. Maximal sizes as defined above were dependent on the pretreatment employed, with maximal size range decreasing as follows: steam explosion > liquid hot water > dilute acid and base pretreatments. Maximal sizes also appeared dependent on feedstock, with herbaceous or grassy biomass exhibiting lower maximal size range (<3 mm) than woody biomass (>3 mm). Such trends, considered alongside the intensive energy requirement of size reduction processes, warrant a more systematic study of particle size effects across different pretreatment technologies and feedstock, as a requisite for optimizing the feedstock supply system.