The NILE Project — Advances in the Conversion of Lignocellulosic Materials into Ethanol

Abstract : NILE ("New Improvements for Lignocellulosic Ethanol") was an integrated European project (2005-2010) devoted to the conversion of lignocellulosic raw materials to ethanol. The main objectives were to design novel enzymes suitable for the hydrolysis of cellulose to glucose and new yeast strains able to efficiently converting all the sugars present in lignocellulose into ethanol. The project also included testing these new developments in an integrated pilot plant and evaluating the environmental and socio-economic impacts of implementing lignocellulosic ethanol on a large scale. Two model raw materials – spruce and wheat straw – both preconditioned with similar pretreatments, were used. Several approaches were explored to improve the saccharification of these pretreated raw materials such as searching for new efficient enzymes and enzyme engineering. Various genetic engineering methods were applied to obtain stable xylose- and arabinose-fermenting Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains that tolerate the toxic compounds present in lignocellulosic hydrolysates. The pilot plant was able to treat 2 tons of dry matter per day, and hydrolysis and fermentation could be run successively or simultaneously. A global model integrating the supply chain was used to assess the performance of lignocellulosic ethanol from an economical and environmental perspective. It was found that directed evolution of a specific enzyme of the cellulolytic cocktail produced by the industrial fungus, Trichoderma reesei, and modification of the composition of this cocktail led to improvements of the enzymatic hydrolysis of pretreated raw material. These results, however, were difficult to reproduce at a large scale. A substantial increase in the ethanol conversion yield and in specific ethanol productivity was obtained through a combination of metabolic engineering of yeast strains and fermentation process development. Pilot trials confirmed the good behaviour of the yeast strains in industrial conditions as well as the suitability of lignin residues as fuels. The ethanol cost and the greenhouse gas emissions were highly dependent on the supply chain but the best performing supply chains showed environmental and economic benefits. From a global standpoint, the results showed the necessity for an optimal integration of the process to co-develop all the steps of the process and to test the improvements in a flexible pilot plant, thus allowing the comparison of various configurations and their economic and environmental impacts to be determined.
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F. Monot, A. Margeot, B. Hahn-Hägerdal, J. Lindstedt, R. Slade. The NILE Project — Advances in the Conversion of Lignocellulosic Materials into Ethanol. Oil & Gas Science and Technology - Revue d'IFP Energies nouvelles, Institut Français du Pétrole, 2013, 68 (4), pp.693-705. ⟨10.2516/ogst/2012078⟩. ⟨hal-01936176⟩

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