Enzymatic degradation of cellulosic wastes



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Texas Tech University


More effective alternative methods for waste stream treatment and reduction are continuously being developed and refined with public pressure for a cleaner, more sustainable environment. This is in addition to the associated financial considerations for an ever-expanding worldwide population. Waste management methods can reduce the amount of materials going into environmental sinks by including treatments that degrade or partially degrade items into environmentally innocuous residues. For example, in the event of an oil spill, we considered using cotton baffles as a method for absorbing the oil in order to transfer to an alternative disposal site. The cotton could be enzymatically degraded by cellulases. This would achieve a volume reduction of landfill waste and offers the potential for reclaiming or degrading the oil in a separate reaction. The same concept of using cellulases in the digestion of cellulose was applied to other types of bulk and contaminated cellulosic wastes. The technology showing the most promising application involved the degradation of contaminated cellulose, especially those waste streams contaminated with potentially hazardous chemicals, as those generated in a laboratory setting. Despite the limitations associated with environments containing high concentrations of nitrates or reduced sugars, the enzyme performed well in a series of experiments in the presence of certain lab contaminants including lanthanides and actinides. Other waste streams considered were the voluminous by-products of sawdust from the timber and wood processing industries. Also considered a potential application was cellulose-containing water hyacinth and duckweed. The latter must be dredged from commercial waterways and certain water treatment facilities. All experiments were performed on a bench scale. The enzyme treatment performed well on all cotton-based substrates tested. The enzyme treatment had limited success on water hyacinth and duckweed and showed little activity with sawdust in the form of pine shavings.