Background: Lignin is a potential feedstock for microbial conversion into various chemicals. However, the degradation rate of native or technical lignin is low, and depolymerization is needed to obtain reasonable conversion rates. In the current study, base-catalyzed depolymerization-using NaOH (5 wt%)-of softwood Kraft lignin was conducted in a continuous-flow reactor system at temperatures in the range 190-240 °C and residence times of 1 or 2 min. The ability of growth of nine bacterial strains belonging to the genera Pseudomonas and Rhodococcus was tested using the alkaline-treated lignin as a sole carbon source.
Results: Pseudomonas fluorescens and Rhodococcus opacus showed the best growth of the tested species on plates with lignin. Further evaluation of P. fluorescens and R. opacus was made in liquid cultivations with depolymerized lignin (DL) at a concentration of 1 g/L. Size exclusion chromatography (SEC) showed that R. opacus consumed most of the available lower molecular weight compounds (approximately 0.1-0.4 kDa) in the DL, but the weight distribution of larger fractions was almost unaffected. Importantly, the consumed compounds included guaiacol-one of the main monomers in the DL. SEC analysis of P. fluorescens culture broth, in contrast, did not show a large conversion of low molecular weight compounds, and guaiacol remained unconsumed. However, a significant shift in molecular weight distribution towards lower average weights was seen.
Conclusions: Rhodococcus opacus and P. fluorescens were identified as two potential microbial candidates for the conversion/consumption of base-catalyzed depolymerized lignin, acting on low and high molecular weight lignin fragments, respectively. These findings will be of relevance for designing bioconversion of softwood Kraft lignin.
Keywords: Base-catalyzed depolymerization; Biorefineries; Guaiacol; Indulin AT; Microbial conversion; Pseudomonas; Rhodococcus.