Hemp hurds are the main byproduct from hemp fibers supply chain and they could represent valuable feedstock of lignocellulosic biomass for biorefineries. The industrial hemp variety "Carmagnola", is characterized by low amounts of ash and high amount of carbohydrates. Alpha-cellulose (44% w/w), hemicellulose (25%), and lignin (23%) were fractionated using an organosolv pretreatment. The enzymatic hydrolysis of the cellulose fraction yielded up to 60% of glucose, that can easily find application as substrate for industrial fermentations. On the other hand, the black liquor originating from hemicellulose contains mainly xylose and minor amounts of other sugars. In the perspective of finding an application of black liquor, 50 yeasts belonging to 24 ascomycetous species were screened both in aerobiosis and anaerobiosis for the production of ethanol and the sugar alcohols xylitol and arabitol from xylose. Pichia fermentans WC 1507, Wickerhamomyces anomalus WC 1501, and Kluyveromyces bacillosporus WC 1404 were found to consume xylose, yielding xylitol in aerobic conditions. In particular, aerobic flask cultures of P. fermentans WC 1507 containing 120 g/L xylose showed the highest xylitol production values, yielding 63.5 g/L xylitol with a YP/S of 71.5%.
Black liquor, exploited as a carbon source, has been successfully utilized by the three selected yeast strains at a concentration of 20 g/L in the culture medium, resulting in comparable or higher yields of biomass and xylitol compared to the medium containing pure xylose. A higher concentration of black liquor in the culture medium (to reach 120 g/l of xylose) has determined an inhibition of the growth of yeasts indicating the need for treatments for the removal of inhibitors. These preliminary results can be considered promising for the microbial valorization of lignocellulosic hemp feedstock toward the production of xylitol.