Global cultivation of canola increased by approximately 22% between 2000 and 2009, due to increased demand for canola oil for biodiesel production and as an edible oil. In 2009 over 290,000 km2 of canola was cultivated globally. In contrast to oilseed, the commercial market for canola straw is minimal and it is generally ploughed back into the field. The high carbohydrate content (greater than 50 % by dry weight) of canola straw suggests it would be a good feedstock for second-generation bioethanol production. There are four major steps involved in bioethanol production from lignocellulosic materials: (i) pretreatment, (ii) hydrolysis, (iii) fermentation, and (iv) further purification to fuel grade bioethanol through distillation and dehydration. Previous research demonstrated a glucose yield of (440.6 ± 14.9) g kg−1 when canola straw was treated using alkaline pretreatment followed by enzymatic hydrolysis. Whilst bioethanol can be produced using cells free in solution, cell immobilization provides the opportunity to reduce bioethanol production costs by minimizing the extent to which down-stream processing is required, and increasing cellular stability against shear forces. Furthermore, the immobilization process can reduce substrate and product inhibition, which enhances the yield and volumetric productivity of bioethanol production during fermentation, improves operational stability and increases cell viability ensuring cells can be used for several cycles of operation. Previous research used cells of Saccharomyces cerevisiae immobilized in Lentikat® discs to convert glucose extracted from canola straw to bioethanol. In batch mode a yield of (165.1 ± 0.1) g bioethanol kg−1 canola straw was achieved.
Continuous fermentation is advantageous in comparison to batch fermentation. The amount of unproductive time (e.g. due to filling, emptying and cleaning) is reduced leading to increased volumetric productivity. The higher volumetric productivity of continuous fermentation means that smaller reactor vessels can be used to produce the same amount of product. This reduces the capital costs associated with a fermentation plant. Research demonstrated a higher bioethanol yield was attained (224.7 g bioethanol kg−1 canola straw) when glucose was converted to bioethanol using immobilized cells in packed-bed continuous flow columns. On an energy generation basis, conversion of 1 kg of canola straw to bioethanol resulted in an energy generation of 6 MJ, representing approximately 35% energy recovery from canola straw. The amount of energy recovered from canola straw could be improved by increasing the amount of energy recovered as bioethanol and by utilising the process by-products in a biorefinery concept.