Pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass is a prerequisite for effective saccharification to produce fermentable sugars. In this study, “green” solvent systems based on acidified mixtures of glycerol carbonate (GC) and glycerol were used to treat sugarcane bagasse and the roles of each solvent in deconstructing biomass were determined.
Pretreatment of sugarcane bagasse at 90°C for only 30 min with acidified GC produced a solid residue having a glucan digestibility of 90% and a glucose yield of 80%, which were significantly higher than a glucan digestibility of 16% and a glucose yield of 15% obtained for bagasse pretreated with acidified ethylene carbonate (EC). Biomass compositional analyses showed that GC pretreatment removed more lignin than EC pretreatment (84% vs 54%). Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) showed that fluffy and size-reduced fibres were produced from GC pretreatment whereas EC pretreatment produced compact particles of reduced size. The maximal glucan digestibility and glucose yield of GC/glycerol systems were about 7% lower than those of EC/ethylene glycol (EG) systems. Replacing up to 50 wt% of GC with glycerol did not negatively affect glucan digestibility and glucose yield. The results from pretreatment of microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) showed that (1) pretreatment with acidified alkylene glycol (AG) alone increased enzymatic digestibility compared to pretreatments with acidified alkylene carbonate (AC) alone and acidified mixtures of AC and AG, (2) pretreatment with acidified GC alone slightly increased, but with acidified EC alone significantly decreased, enzymatic digestibility compared to untreated MCC, and (3) there was a good positive linear correlation of enzymatic digestibility of treated and untreated MCC samples with congo red (CR) adsorption capacity.
Acidified GC alone was a more effective solvent for pretreatment of sugarcane bagasse than acidified EC alone. The higher glucose yield obtained with GC-pretreated bagasse is possibly due to the presence of one hydroxyl group in the GC molecular structure, resulting in more significant biomass delignification and defibrillation, though both solvent pretreatments reduced bagasse particles to a similar extent. The maximum glucan digestibility of GC/glycerol systems was less than that of EC/EG systems, which is likely attributed to glycerol being less effective than EG in biomass delignification and defibrillation. Acidified AC/AG solvent systems were more effective for pretreatment of lignin-containing biomass than MCC.