Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Chemical Engineering (M.S.C.H.)

Degree Granting Department

Chemical Engineering

Major Professor

George Philippidis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Norma Alcantar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anna Pyayt, Ph.D.


Actinobacillus succinogenes, Green Chemistry, Organic Acid, Phosphoric Acid Pretreatment, Sweet Sorghum Bagasse


Succinic acid is a compound used for manufacturing lacquers, resins, and other coating chemicals. It is also used in the food and beverage industry as a flavor additive. It is predominantly manufactured from petrochemicals, but it can also be produced more sustainably by fermentation of sugars from renewable feedstocks (biomass). Bio-based succinic acid has excellent potential for becoming a platform chemical (building block) for commodity and high-value chemicals.

In this study, we focused on the production of bio-based succinic acid from the fiber of sweet sorghum (SS), which has a high fermentable sugar content and can be cultivated in a variety of climates and locations around the world. To avoid competition with food feedstocks, we targeted the non-edible ‘bagasse’, which is the fiber part after extracting the juice. Initially, we studied various conditions of pretreating SS bagasse to remove most of the non-fermentable portions and expose the cellulose fibers containing the fermentable sugars (glucose). Concentrated (83%) phosphoric acid was utilized at mild temperatures of 50-80 °C for 30-60 minutes at various bagasse loadings (10-15%) using a partial factorial experimental design. After pretreatment, the biomass was subjected to enzymatic hydrolysis with commercial cellulase enzyme (Cellic® Ctec2) to identify the pretreatment conditions that lead to the highest glucose yield that is critical for the production of succinic acid via fermentation with the bacterium Actinobacillus succinogenes.

As the pretreatment temperature and duration increased, the bagasse color changed from light brown to dark brown-black, indicating decomposition, which ranged from 15% to 72%. The pretreatment results were fitted with an empirical model that identified 50 °C for 43 min at 13% solids loading as optimal pretreatment conditions that lead to the highest glucose release from sweet sorghum bagasse. Biomass pretreated at those conditions and subjected to separate enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation with A. succinogenes yielded almost 18 g/L succinic acid, which represented 90% of the theoretical yield, a very promising performance that warranties further investigation of bio-based succinic acid production from sweet sorghum bagasse, as a more sustainable alternative to succinic acid produced from fossil sources, such as oil.