The enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose is inhibited by non-productive adsorption of cellulases to lignin, and that is particularly problematic with lignin-rich materials such as softwood. Although conventional surfactants alleviate non-productive adsorption, using biosurfactants in softwood hydrolysis has not been reported. In this study, the effects of four biosurfactants, namely horse-chestnut escin, Pseudomonas aeruginosa rhamnolipid, and saponins from red and white quinoa varieties, on the enzymatic saccharification of steam-pretreated spruce were investigated. The used biosurfactants improved hydrolysis, and the best-performing one was escin, which led to cellulose conversions above 90%, decreased by around two-thirds lignin inhibition of Avicel hydrolysis, and improved hydrolysis of pretreated spruce by 24%. Red quinoa saponins (RQS) addition resulted in cellulose conversions above 80%, which was around 16% higher than without biosurfactants, and it was more effective than adding rhamnolipid or white quinoa saponins. Cellulose conversion improved with the increase in RQS addition up to 6 g/100 g biomass, but no significant changes were observed above that dosage. Although saponins are known to inhibit yeast growth, no inhibition of Saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation of hydrolysates produced with RQS addition was detected. This study shows the potential of biosurfactants for enhancing the enzymatic hydrolysis of steam-pretreated softwood.
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