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Investigating the potential of thermophilic species for ethanol production from industrial spent sulfite liquor

Michaela Weissgram Thomas Ters Hedda K. Weber Christoph Herwig

*Corresponding author: Christoph Herwig christoph.herwig@tuwien.ac.at


Thermophilic microorganisms hold a great potential for bioethanol production on waste biomass, due to their ability to utilize pentoses and hexoses alike. However, to date hardly any data on thermophiles growing directly on industrial substrates like spent sulfite liquor (SSL) are available. This contribution investigates the ability of Thermoanaerobacter species to utilize the main sugars in the used SSL (mannose, glucose and xylose) and the effect of process parameters (pH, temperature and sugar concentration) on their growth. Based on these results the strain T. mathranii was chosen for further studies. The ability of T. mathranii to grow directly on SSL was investigated and the effect of several inhibiting substances on growth was elucidated. Furthermore it was tested whether pretreatment with activated charcoal can increase the fermentability of SSL. The fermentations were evaluated based on yields and specific rates. It could be shown that T. mathranii was able to ferment all sugars in the investigated softwood SSL and fermented diluted, untreated SSL (up to 2.7% (w/w) dry matter). Pretreatment with activated charcoal could slightly reduce the amount of phenols in the substrate and thus facilitate growth and ethanol production on higher SSL concentrations (up to 4.7% (w/v) dry matter). Ethanol yields of 0.29-0.44 Cmmol of ethanol per Cmmol sugar were obtained on untreated and pretreated spent sulfite liquor, respectively. These results on an industrial substrate strengthen the claim that thermophilic microorganisms might be the optimal candidates for forest biorefinery.

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