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Special Issue from the NSERC Bioconversion network workshop: pretreatment and fractionation of biomass… Saddler, Jack; Kumar, Linoj Jan 28, 2013

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EDITORIAL Open AccessSpecial Issue from the NSERC Bioconversionnetwork workshop: pretreatment and fractionationof biomass for biorefinery/biofuelsJack Saddler* and Linoj KumarWorld demand for energy and commodity chemicalscontinues to increase at a rapid pace in parallel with glo-bal industrialization and economic development. Thecurrent annual global energy demand of 13 billiontonnes of oil equivalent (btoe) is predicted to increase by35% in 2035 [1]. The convenience, infrastructure invest-ment and high energy content of liquid hydrocarbonsmakes them the preferred energy source for all modes oftransportation and the dominant feedstock for the ma-jority of today’s commodity chemicals.However, we face significant challenges with the con-tinued use of oil, from concerns about carbon emissionscontributing to climate change to ongoing depletion offinite oil reserves affecting the lifestyles of future genera-tions. It is inevitable that we will have to evolve from afinite, hydrocarbon driven global industry to a more sus-tainable, carbohydrate based society. If managed sustain-ably, biomass will be the major, alternative, renewable,source of many of the chemicals and fuels that we cur-rently derive from hydrocarbons such as coal, oil andnatural gas [2].The development of sugar/starch/plant oils derivedbiorefineries has already shown how a range of fuels andchemicals can be produced economically and sustain-ably. However, in order to make a complete transitionfrom a ‘fossil fuel economy’ to a ‘bioeconomy’, the wholebarrel of oil needs to be replaced by biomass-derivedcounterparts [3]. Many types of chemicals and conven-tional fuels such as gasoline, middle distillates and avi-ation fuels are used today. However, as described byseveral of the papers in this special pretreatment issue ofthe journal there are several promising biomass-derivedequivalents, which can potentially substitute or replacemost conventional fuels and chemicals. These biomassderived molecules should be identical to those producedby oil or gas based refineries in order to be compatiblewith existing infrastructure and applications. The biore-finery approach considers biomass as the source of avariety of chemicals and polymers, in an analogous fash-ion where an oil refinery gives us the fuels and thou-sands of chemicals we use routinely in our daily life. Inan oil refinery, liquid fuels, such as gasoline and diesel,form the bulk, relatively low value products, while theplastics, dyes and chemicals provide the higher value,“niche” markets. It is likely that a biomass based biore-finery will follow the same profile of products andvalues.After collection and delivery, the first stage in anylignocellulose based biorefinery process will be the pre-treatment step. In addition to enhancing the enzyme’saccessibility to cellulose, an “ideal” pretreatment will aidin the ready fractionation of the biomass into its keyconstituents (Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin) whilefacilitating their subsequent conversion to both fuels andhigh value co-products in high yield and titre [3,4].Therefore, the initial choice and type of pretreatmentwill be critical as it influences all subsequent down-stream processing steps and the efficiency and econom-ics of the overall process. As is described by many of thepapers in this special pretreatment issue of the journal,the type of pretreatment that can be successfully used ishighly dependent on the nature of the biomass feedstockand desired products that are derived from the biorefin-ery. However, not all biomass sources are created equalwith substrates such as corn fibre considered to be rela-tively easy to pretreat while softwoods are typically quiterecalcitrant [3,4]. It is widely recognised that the struc-tural diversity of various biomass sources ranging fromagricultural residues to hardwoods to softwoods and theneed to sometimes provide a more “uniform/fine-par-ticle” type feedstock will heavily influence the effective-ness of the various pretreatments [3,4]. An “ideal”pretreatment would be feedstock agnostic, such that it* Correspondence: Jack. Saddler@ubc.caForest Products Biotechnology/Bioenergy, University of British Columbia,British Columbia, Canada© 2013 Saddler and Kumar; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of theCreative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use,distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.Saddler and Kumar Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:17http://www.biotechnologyforbiofuels.com/content/6/1/17would be effective on a wide range of biomass feed-stocks. The choice and method of pretreatment will alsodepend on the nature and the value of the co-productsthat could be produced from substrate components suchas the lignin and extractives. Identifying and optimisinga pretreatment that is “feedstock agnostic”, economical,robust and that can effectively fractionate biomass intodesirable chemical components with minimum use ofenzymes and chemicals continues to be a key research area[3,4] and was the focus of a recent pretreatment workshopheld at the University of British Columbia (UBC).Several years ago the Bioconversion Network wasestablished by the Natural Science and Engineering Re-search Council (NSERC) of Canada to bring togetherseveral of Canada’s major researchers working in thebiomass-to-fuel-and chemicals area. Realizing the pri-mary role that pretreatment plays in accelerating thecommercialisation of the overall biorefinery concept,NSERC generously supplied funds through its SNEI(Strategic Network Enhancement Initiative) program tocatalyze the planning and hosting of a “pretreatmentworkshop” that was held over the three days of June 4-6th at the UBC Forest Sciences Centre, Vancouver,British Columbia. There were 146 active participants in-cluding representatives from industry (62), academia andgovernment (42) while the graduate students and post-docs (38) in attendance emphasised the training goal ofthe workshop. The meeting brought together leaders inpretreatment/bioconversion research from forest pro-ducts/biorefinery/biotechnology companies such asCatchlight, Iogen, Abengoa, Novozymes, Green fields,Lignol, Andritz, Metso, Mascoma, Advanced Bio, FPInnovations, Alpac and Alberta Innovates, etc., as wellas many of the recognised world experts in biomasspretreatment.Many of the pretreatment technologies that are beingactively investigated and commercialised around theworld were described and discussed. These ranged fromprocesses that are closer to commercialisation such asvariations on steam/dilute acid pretreatments [5] that arebeing pursued by companies such as Inbicon, Abengoaand Andritz, to variations of “traditional” pulping pro-cesses, to more “evolving” processes such as the potentialof ionic liquid. To facilitate discussion, interaction and amore workshop modus operandi, the meeting was orga-nised into distinct sessions including scale-up challenges,commercialization, reactor systems technology, techno-economics and biomass energy supply chains and strat-egies for integrated biorefining. Within these sessions, thegroup discussed what lessons could be learned fromrelated industries such as the oil refinery, pulp and paperand corn ethanol industries. There was an emphasis onhow the global, and Canadian forest products industry inparticular, could expand its current product portfolio intomore of a biorefinery concept. The workshop also high-lighted the potential opportunities and challenges of sour-cing biomass, and the related logistics issues. The panelsession entitled “Substrate characterization and funda-mentals of pretreatment” covered a range of advancedtools/techniques to try to better understand the structuralchanges occurring in biomass during pretreatment andthe subsequent influence on enzymatic hydrolysis, sugarfermentation and coproduct production. The workshopconcluded with a panel entitled, “Impressions, prioritiesand the future of pretreatment” that attempted to “look-into-the-crystal ball” to forecast the future needs of pre-treatment on both the industrial and more fundamentalfronts. There was a consensus that, “there is no clear“ideal pretreatment” and that it is unlikely that one singlepretreatment will be universally used”. Rather, several dif-ferent pretreatment processes and combination will beemployed to derive both the high volume/lower valuesugar-based products and the lower volume/higher valueniche markets. However, it was also agreed that obtaininghigh yields of “clean” monomeric sugars at high concen-tration using low enzyme/chemical input will continue tobe a key goal for any pretreatment as these sugars can betransformed into both fuels and building-block chemicalsby fermentation as well as by enzymatic and chemicaltransformations.The workshop proved to be a unique forum by bring-ing together many of the individuals and companiesworking in the traditional and evolving “refinery” sec-tors. It also benefited from an animated dialogue be-tween world renowned international experts in biomasspretreatment, oil, pulp and paper, enzyme, ethanol andbiotechnology companies, as well as equipment manu-facturers and end users. The insightful questions of thenext generation of engineers, scientists and policymakers that constitute the graduate students and Postdocs in attendance also added to the success of themeeting. Presenters were invited to try and capture theinsights they provided at the workshop and make thisinformation available to a wider audience by publicationin a leading open access journal. This special “Pretreat-ment” Issue of Biotechnology for Biofuels brings togethersome of the peer reviewed articles, which were presentedand discussed at the workshop. We want to thank all ofour colleagues who made the workshop a success by notonly taking time out of their busy schedules but also bytheir openness, generosity with their experience and thedepth of their insights. We hope that this special “pre-treatment” issue will help update the bioconversion/bior-efinery research community on some of the advances inpretreatment research, development and demonstration(R, D&D).We want to thank the Editors of the Journal “Biotechnol-ogy for Biofuels” and Dr Helen Whitaker and her colleaguesSaddler and Kumar Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:17 Page 2 of 3http://www.biotechnologyforbiofuels.com/content/6/1/17at BioMed Central for their help in the editorial process.We also want to thank the many colleagues who helped inthe peer review process, strengthening the quality of themanuscripts, and all of the contributors to the specialissue.Received: 14 January 2013 Accepted: 14 January 2013Published: 28 January 2013References1. IEA: World energy outlook 2012. Paris, France: OECD publishing; 2012.2. Peralta-Yahya PP, Zhang F, del Cardayre SB, Keasling JD: Microbialengineering for the production of advanced biofuels. Nature 2012,488(7411):320–328.3. US Department of Energy: Biomass program: Replacing the whole barrel toreduce US dependence on oil. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/pdfs/replacing_barrel_overview.pdf last accessed on 10 January 2013.4. Sims REH, Mabee W, Saddler JN, Taylor M: An overview of secondgeneration biofuel technologies. Bioresour Technol 2010, 101(6):1570–1580.5. Galbe M, Zacchi G: Pretreatment: The key to efficient utilisation oflignocellulosic materials. Bioresour Technol 2012, 46(2):70–78.doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-17Cite this article as: Saddler and Kumar: Special Issue from the NSERCBioconversion network workshop: pretreatment and fractionation ofbiomass for biorefinery/biofuels. Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013 6:17.Submit your next manuscript to BioMed Centraland take full advantage of: • Convenient online submission• Thorough peer review• No space constraints or color figure charges• Immediate publication on acceptance• Inclusion in PubMed, CAS, Scopus and Google Scholar• Research which is freely available for redistributionSubmit your manuscript at www.biomedcentral.com/submitSaddler and Kumar Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:17 Page 3 of 3http://www.biotechnologyforbiofuels.com/content/6/1/17


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