Cellulosic biofuel production using emulsified simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (eSSF) with conventional and thermotolerant yeasts

Shannon M. Hoffman, Maria Alvarez, Gilad Alfassi, Dmitry M. Rein, Sergio Garcia-Echauri, Yachin Cohen, José L. Avalos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Future expansion of corn-derived ethanol raises concerns of sustainability and competition with the food industry. Therefore, cellulosic biofuels derived from agricultural waste and dedicated energy crops are necessary. To date, slow and incomplete saccharification as well as high enzyme costs have hindered the economic viability of cellulosic biofuels, and while approaches like simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) and the use of thermotolerant microorganisms can enhance production, further improvements are needed. Cellulosic emulsions have been shown to enhance saccharification by increasing enzyme contact with cellulose fibers. In this study, we use these emulsions to develop an emulsified SSF (eSSF) process for rapid and efficient cellulosic biofuel production and make a direct three-way comparison of ethanol production between S. cerevisiae, O. polymorpha, and K. marxianus in glucose and cellulosic media at different temperatures. Results: In this work, we show that cellulosic emulsions hydrolyze rapidly at temperatures tolerable to yeast, reaching up to 40-fold higher conversion in the first hour compared to microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). To evaluate suitable conditions for the eSSF process, we explored the upper temperature limits for the thermotolerant yeasts Kluyveromyces marxianus and Ogataea polymorpha, as well as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and observed robust fermentation at up to 46, 50, and 42 °C for each yeast, respectively. We show that the eSSF process reaches high ethanol titers in short processing times, and produces close to theoretical yields at temperatures as low as 30 °C. Finally, we demonstrate the transferability of the eSSF technology to other products by producing the advanced biofuel isobutanol in a light-controlled eSSF using optogenetic regulators, resulting in up to fourfold higher titers relative to MCC SSF. Conclusions: The eSSF process addresses the main challenges of cellulosic biofuel production by increasing saccharification rate at temperatures tolerable to yeast. The rapid hydrolysis of these emulsions at low temperatures permits fermentation using non-thermotolerant yeasts, short processing times, low enzyme loads, and makes it possible to extend the process to chemicals other than ethanol, such as isobutanol. This transferability establishes the eSSF process as a platform for the sustainable production of biofuels and chemicals as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number157
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • General Energy
  • Biotechnology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


  • Biofuels
  • Biomass pretreatment
  • Cellulose
  • Emulsions
  • Ethanol
  • Isobutanol
  • Kluyveromyces marxianus
  • Ogataea polymorpha
  • Optogenetics
  • SSF
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Thermotolerant


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