The production of second-generation ethanol using lignocellulosic feedstock is crucial in order to be able to meet the increasing fuel demands by the transportation sector. However, the technology still needs to overcome several bottlenecks before feasible commercialization can be realized. These include, for example, the development of cost-effective and environmentally friendly pretreatment strategies and valorization of the sidestream that is obtained following ethanol distillation. This work uses two chemical-free pretreatment methods—nitrogen explosive decompression (NED) and synthetic flue gas explosive decompression—to investigate the potential of a bioethanol production sidestream in terms of further anaerobic digestion. For this purpose, samples from different stages of the bioethanol production process (pretreatment, hydrolysis, and fermentation) and the bioethanol sidestream went through a separation process (involving solid–liquid separation), following which a biomethane potential (BMP) assay was carried out. The results show that both factors being studied in this article (involving the pretreatment method and the separation process) served to influence methane yields. Liquid fractions that were obtained during the process with NED gave rise to methane yields that were 8% to 12% higher than when synthetic flue gas was used; fermented and distillation sidestream gave rise to the highest methane yields (0.53 and 0.58 mol CH4/100 g respectively). The methane yields from the liquid fractions were between 60–88% lower than those that were obtained from solid fractions. Samples from the bioethanol sidestream (solid fraction) that were pretreated with NED had the highest methane yield (1.7 mol CH4
/100 g). A solid–liquid separation step can be a promising strategy when it comes to improving the energy output from lignocellulosic biomass and the management of the ethanol distillation sidestream.
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