A recently discovered thermophilic isolate, Geobacillus sp. R7, was shown to produce a thermostable cellulase with a high hydrolytic potential when grown on extrusion-pretreated agricultural residues such corn stover and prairie cord grass. At 70°C and 15–20% solids, the thermostable cellulase was able to partially liquefy solid biomass only after 36 h of hydrolysis time. The hydrolytic capabilities of Geobacillus sp. R7 cellulase were comparable to those of a commercial cellulase. Fermentation of the enzymatic hydrolyzates with Saccharomyces cerevisiae ATCC 24860 produced ethanol yields of 0.45–0.50 g ethanol/g glucose with more than 99% glucose utilization. It was further demonstrated that Geobacillus sp. R7 can ferment the lignocellulosic substrates to ethanol in a single step that could facilitate the development of a consolidated bioprocessing as an alternative approach for bioethanol production with outstanding potential for cost reductions.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a perennial grass native to North America, is a promising energy crop for bioethanol production. The aim of this study was to optimize the enzymatic saccharification of thermo-mechanically pretreated switchgrass using a thermostable cellulase from Geobacillus sp. in a three-level, four-variable central composite design of response surface methodology. Different combinations of solids loadings (5 to 20%), enzyme loadings (5 to 20 FPU g-1 DM), temperature (50 to 70 oC), and time (36 to 96 h) were investigated in a total of 30 experiments to model glucose release from switchgrass. All four factors had a significant impact on the cellulose conversion yields with a high coefficient of determination of 0.96. The use of higher solids loadings (20%) and temperatures (70 oC) during enzymatic hydrolysis proved beneficial for the significant reduction of hydrolysis times (2.67-times) and enzyme loadings (4-times), with important implications for reduced capital and operating costs of ethanol production. At 20% solids, the increase of temperature of enzymatic hydrolysis from 50 oC to 70 oC increased glucose concentrations by 34%. The attained maximum glucose concentration of 23.52 g L-1 translates into a glucose recovery efficiency of 46% from the theoretical yield. Following red yeast fermentation, a maximum ethanol concentration of 11 g L-1 was obtained, accounting for a high glucose to ethanol fermentation efficiency of 92%. The overall conversion efficiency of switchgrass to ethanol was 42%.