Effect of Steam Explosion on Biomass

Before enzymes can efficiently hydrolyse the sugar components of biomass, biomass needs to be pre-treated to expose these sugars to enzymatic attack. Why is this necessary? Well the highly complex lignocellulosic matrix consisting of Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin forms a barrier against enzymes which prevents degradation of the biomass into its individual components.

Steam explosion is one man-made way in overcoming this barrier, or in other words overcome the recalcitrant propery of biomass that is observed in nature. By subjecting biomass to high pressure steam for a certain period of time and then explosively depressurizing the biomass through release of steam/biomass one can break apart the lignocellulosic structure effectively yielding a highly digestible substrate.

Compare the following pictures of raw un-pretreated triticale straw with that that has been steam exploded at a steam temperature of around 200 degrees and a residence time of 5 – 10 minutes. One can visually see how the biomass has been fragmented and destroyed by this pretreatment technology.

Raw straw for steam explosion

Raw unpretreated triticale straw

Pretreated biomass

Steam Exploded triticale straw

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