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Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2011 Mar;31(1):20-31. doi: 10.3109/07388551003757816. Epub 2010 May 31.

Biotechnological strategies to overcome inhibitors in lignocellulose hydrolysates for ethanol production: review.

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  • 1Department of Applied Biology, Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, Avenue de I' Armee, B.P. 3900 Kigali, Rwanda.


One of the major challenges faced in commercial production of lignocellulosic bioethanol is the inhibitory compounds generated during the thermo-chemical pre-treatment step of biomass. These inhibitory compounds are toxic to fermenting micro-organisms. The ethanol yield and productivity obtained during fermentation of lignocellulosic hydrolysates is decreased due to the presence of inhibiting compounds, such as weak acids, furans and phenolic compounds formed or released during thermo-chemical pre-treatment step such as acid and steam explosion. This review describes the application and/or effect of biological detoxification (removal of inhibitors before fermentation) or use of bioreduction capability of fermenting yeasts on the fermentability of the hydrolysates. Inhibition of yeast fermentation by the inhibitor compounds in the lignocellulosic hydrolysates can be reduced by treatment with enzymes such as the lignolytic enzymes, for example, laccase and micro-organisms such as Trichoderma reesei, Coniochaeta ligniaria NRRL30616, Trametes versicolor, Pseudomonas putida Fu1, Candida guilliermondii, and Ureibacillus thermosphaericus. Microbial and enzymatic detoxifications of lignocellulosic hydrolysate are mild and more specific in their action. The efficiency of enzymatic process is quite comparable to other physical and chemical methods. Adaptation of the fermentation yeasts to the lignocellulosic hydrolysate prior to fermentation is suggested as an alternative approach to detoxification. Increases in fermentation rate and ethanol yield by adapted micro-organisms to acid pre-treated lignocellulosic hydrolysates have been reported in some studies. Another approach to alleviate the inhibition problem is to use genetic engineering to introduce increased tolerance by Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for example, by overexpressing genes encoding enzymes for resistance against specific inhibitors and altering co-factor balance. Cloning of the laccase gene followed by heterologous expression in yeasts was shown to provide higher enzyme yields and permit production of laccases with desired properties for detoxification of lignocellulose hydrolysates. A combination of more inhibitor-tolerant yeast strains with efficient feed strategies such as fed-batch will likely improve lignocellulose-to-ethanol process robustness.

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