The demand for biofuel ethanol made from clean, renewable nonfood sources is growing. Cellulosic biomass, such as switch grass (Panicum virgatum L.), is an alternative feedstock for ethanol production; however, cellulosic feedstock hydrolysates contain high levels of xylose, which needs to be converted to ethanol to meet economic feasibility. In this study, the effects of xylose isomerase on cell growth and ethanol production from biomass sugars representative of switch grass were investigated using low cell density cultures. The lager yeast species Saccharomyces pastorianus was grown with immobilized xylose isomerase in the fermentation step to determine the impact of the glucose and xylose concentrations on the ethanol production rates. Ethanol production rates were improved due to xylose isomerase; however, the positive effect was not due solely to the conversion of xylose to xylulose. Xylose isomerase also has glucose isomerase activity, so to better understand the impact of the xylose isomerase on S. pastorianus, growth and ethanol production were examined in cultures provided fructose as the sole carbon. It was observed that growth and ethanol production rates were higher for the fructose cultures with xylose isomerase even in the absence of xylose. To determine whether the positive effects of xylose isomerase extended to other yeast species, a side-by-side comparison of S. pastorianus and Saccharomyces cerevisiae was conducted. These comparisons demonstrated that the xylose isomerase increased ethanol productivity for both the yeast species by increasing the glucose consumption rate. These results suggest that xylose isomerase can contribute to improved ethanol productivity, even without significant xylose conversion.CI - Copyright (c) 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
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