BackgroundMixing is an energy demanding process which has been previously shown to affect enzymatic hydrolysis. Concentrated biomass slurries are associated with high and non-Newtonian viscosities and mixing in these systems is a complex task. Poor mixing can lead to mass and/or heat transfer problems as well as inhomogeneous enzyme distribution, both of which can cause possible yield reduction. Furthermore the stirring energy dissipation may impact the particle size which in turn may affect the enzymatic hydrolysis. The objective of the current work was to specifically quantify the effects of mixing on particle-size distribution (PSD) and relate this to changes in the enzymatic hydrolysis. Two rather different materials were investigated, namely pretreated Norway spruce and giant reed.
ResultsChanges in glucan hydrolysis and PSD were measured as a function of agitation during enzymatic hydrolysis at fiber loadings of 7 or 13% water-insoluble solids (WIS). Enzymatic conversion of pretreated spruce was strongly affected by agitation rates at the higher WIS content. However, at low WIS content the agitation had almost no effect on hydrolysis. There was some effect of agitation on the hydrolysis of giant reed at high WIS loading, but it was smaller than that for spruce, and there was no measurable effect at low WIS loading. In the case of spruce, intense agitation clearly affected the PSD and resulted in a reduced mean particle size, whereas for giant reed the decrease in particle size was mainly driven by enzymatic action. However, the rate of enzymatic hydrolysis was not increased after size reduction by agitation.
ConclusionsThe impact of agitation on the enzymatic hydrolysis clearly depends not only on feedstock but also on the solids loading. Agitation was found to affect the PSD differently for the examined pretreated materials spruce and giant reed. The fact that the reduced mean particle diameter could not explain the enhanced hydrolysis rates found for spruce at an elevated agitation suggests that mass transfer at sustained high viscosities plays an important role in determining the rate of enzymatic hydrolysis.