Countercurrent operation in the dilute-acid hydrolysis of cellulose for ethanol production

Pär Pettersson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


Fuel ethanol can be produced from lignocellulosic materials to replace gasoline and diesel. A crucial step in the production process is the hydrolysis (saccharification) of the material, which can be achieved with dilute acid at high temperature. Unfortunately, sugar is degraded under these severe conditions, and the sugar yield is generally low. This thesis deals with countercurrent operation, which is a way of minimizing sugar degradation, while keeping the sugar concentration high.

A mathematical model of a countercurrent reactor was developed, which considers the porosity of the pulp, and the continual collapse of the pulp (so-called bed shrinkage). Simulations revealed that bed shrinkage is advantageous, but that the porosity is not significant as long as the total solids loading in the reactor is constant.

In an experimental study, a 250 l batch reactor was employed to investigate the importance of the number of hydrolysis stages. The results, although ambiguous, could support the idea that sugar survival is enhanced when the hydrolysate is removed from the increasing severity that affects the solid, as is the case in a countercurrent process.

Since it has been reported that a countercurrent reactor is difficult to operate when using a hardwood feedstock, a comparative study of hardwood and softwood was made. The two substrates were hydrolysed in a lab-scale, shrinking-bed flow-through reactor, and the solid residues were analysed. Structural differences were observed that indicate that softwood is more manageable in a countercurrent reactor.

The heterogeneous aspects of dilute-acid hydrolysis were studied in both experiments and mathematical models. Especially, the importance of structural effects such as hydrogen bonding was considered.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Chemical Engineering
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2003 Nov 21
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2003-11-21
Time: 14:00
Place: Room K:B (Kemicentrum), Lund Institute of Technology

External reviewer(s)

Name: Saddler, Jack
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of British Columbia, Canada


Article: Pettersson, P.O., Eklund, R. and Zacchi, G. (2000)Modelling and Simulation of a Countercurrent Shrinking-Bed Reactor for Dilute-Acid Hydrolysis of Cellulose, International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels XIII, Stockholm, 3-6 July 2000, Proceedings I:7.

Article: Eklund, R. and Pettersson, P.O. (2000) Dilute-Acid Hydrolysis of Softwood Forest Residue, International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels XIII, Stockholm, 3-6 July 2000, Proceedings I

Article: Pettersson, P.O., Torget, R.W., Jennings, E.W. and Eklund, R. (2003) Comparative Study of Softwood and Hardwood Properties in Shrinking-Bed Dilute-Acid Hydrolysis (Manuscript)

Article: Pettersson, P.O., Torget, R.W., Eklund, R., Xiang, Q., Lee, Y.Y. and Zacchi, G. (2002)Simplistic Modeling Approach to Heterogeneous Dilute-Acid Hydrolysis of Cellulose Microcrystallites, Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Vol. 105-108, pp 451-455

Article: Xiang, Q., Pettersson, P.O., Torget, R.W. and Lee Y.Y. (2002) Heterogeneous Aspects of Acid Hydrolysis of a-Cellulose, Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Vol. 105-108, pp 505-514.

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Chemical Engineering


  • model
  • lignocellulose
  • wood
  • cellulose
  • ethanol production
  • dilute-acid hydrolysis
  • countercurrent
  • Kemiteknik och kemisk teknologi
  • Chemical technology and engineering


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