Steam Explosion Pretreatment of Cotton Gin Waste for Fuel Ethanol Production


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Virginia Tech


The current research investigates the utilization of cotton gin waste as a feedstock to produce a value-added product - fuel ethanol. Cotton gin waste consists of pieces of burs, stems, motes (immature seeds) and cotton fiber, and is considered to be a lignocellulosic material. The three main chemical constituents are cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Cellulose and hemicellulose are polysaccharides of primarily fermentable sugars, glucose and xylose respectively. Hemicellulose also includes small fractions of arabinose, galactose, and mannose, all of which are fermentable as well.

The main issue in converting cotton gin waste to fuel ethanol is the accessibility of the polysaccharides for enzymatic breakdown into monosaccharides. This study focused on the use of steam explosion as the pretreatment method. Steam explosion treatment of biomass has been previously described to increase cellulose accessibility. The governing factors for the effectiveness of steam explosion are steam temperature and retention times. The two factors are combined into a single severity term, log(Ro). Following steam explosion pretreatment, cotton gin waste was subjected to enzyme hydrolysis using Primalco basic cellulase. The sugars released by enzyme hydrolysis were fermented by a genetically engineered Escherichia coli (Escherichia coli KO11). The effect of steam explosion pretreatment on ethanol production from cotton gin waste was studied using a statistically based experimental design.

The results obtained from this study showed that steam exploded cotton gin waste is a heterogeneous material. Drying and milling of steam exploded cotton gin waste was necessary to reduce variability in compositional analysis. Raw cotton gin waste was found to have 52.3% fermentable sugars. The fiber loss during the steam explosion treatment was high, up to 24.1%. Xylan and glucan loss from the pretreatment was linear with respect to steam explosion severity. Steam explosion treatment on cotton gin waste increased the hydrolysis of cellulose by enzyme hydrolysis. Following 24 hours of enzyme hydrolysis, a maximum cellulose conversion of 66.9% was obtained at a severity of 4.68. Similarly, sugar to ethanol conversions were improved by steam explosion. Maximum sugar to ethanol conversion of 83.1% was observed at a severity of 3.56.

The conclusions drawn from this study are the following: steam explosion was able to improve both glucose yields from enzyme hydrolysis and ethanol yields from fermentation. However, when analyzed on whole biomass, or starting material basis, it was found that the fiber loss incurred during steam explosion treatment negated the gain in ethanol yield.



Enzyme Hydrolysis, Cotton Gin Waste, Steam Explosion, Fermentation