Fungal pretreatment is a biological process that uses rotting fungi to reduce the recalcitrance and enhance the enzymatic digestibility of lignocellulosic feedstocks at low temperature, without added chemicals and wastewater generation. Thus, it has been presumed to be low cost. However, fungal pretreatment requires longer incubation times and generates lower yields than traditional pretreatments. Thus, this study assesses the techno-economic feasibility of a fungal pretreatment facility for the production of fermentable sugars for a 75,700 m3
(20 million gallons) per year cellulosic bioethanol plant. Four feedstocks were evaluated: perennial grasses, corn stover, agricultural residues other than corn stover, and hardwood. The lowest estimated sugars production cost ($1.6/kg) was obtained from corn stover, and was 4–15 times as much as previous estimates for conventional pretreatment technologies. The facility-related cost was the major contributor (46–51%) to the sugar production cost, mainly because of the requirement of large equipment in high quantities, due to process bottlenecks such as low sugar yields, low feedstock bulk density, long fungal pretreatment times, and sterilization requirements. At the current state of the technology, fungal pretreatment at biorefinery scale does not appear to be economically feasible, and considerable process improvements are still required to achieve product cost targets.
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