The formation of phenolic compounds during pretreatment of sugarcane bagasse was investigated. Bagasse was pretreated by wet oxidation (WO) at 195°C during 15 min under either alkaline or acidic conditions and by steam explosion (STEX) at 205°C during 10 min. The total content of phenolic compounds in the prehydrolysates was determined spectrophotometrically. Under acidic and alkaline WO conditions, 3.8% (w/w) and 3% phenols were found, respectively. STEX gave rise to 1.9% phenols. Individual phenols were identified by GC-MS. Phenylpropanoid derivatives, such as p-coumaric and ferulic acids, accounted for more than 50% of the phenols identified in STEX prehydrolysates. In WO prehydrolysates, on the other hand, phenols lacking the propanoid side chain were predominant. Of the latter, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde was the most abundant phenol, with concentrations of 0.27% (acidic conditions) and 0.15% (alkaline conditions). As expected, high concentrations of oxidised compounds were generally observed in WO prehydrolysates, such as carboxylic acids, aldehydes and ketones. This is a true reflection of the oxidative conditions during WO pretreatment.
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