A membrane bioreactor was developed to counteract the inhibition effect of furfural in ethanol production.
Furfural, a major inhibitor in lignocellulosic hydrolyzates, is a highly toxic substance which is formed from pentose sugars released during the acidic degradation of lignocellulosic materials. Continuous cultivations with complete cell retention were performed at a high dilution rate of 0.5 h−1
. Furfural was added directly into the bioreactor by pulse injection or by addition into the feed medium to obtain furfural concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 21.8 g L−1
. At all pulse injections of furfural, the yeast was able to convert the furfural very rapidly by in situ
detoxification. When injecting 21.8 g L−1
furfural to the cultivation, the yeast converted it by a specific conversion rate of 0.35 g g−1
. At high cell density, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
could tolerate very high furfural levels without major changes in the ethanol production. During the continuous cultures when up to 17.0 g L−1
furfural was added to the inlet medium, the yeast successfully produced ethanol, whereas an increase of furfural to 18.6 and 20.6 g L−1
resulted in a rapidly decreasing ethanol production and accumulation of sugars in the permeate. This study show that continuous ethanol fermentations by total cell retention in a membrane bioreactor has a high furfural tolerance and can conduct rapid in situ
detoxification of medium containing high furfural concentrations.