BackgroundLignocellulosic biomass such as wood is an attractive material for fuel ethanol production. Pretreatment technologies that increase the digestibility of cellulose and hemicellulose in the lignocellulosic biomass have a major influence on the cost of the subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis and ethanol fermentation processes. Pretreatments without chemicals such as acids, bases or organic solvents are less effective for an enzymatic hydrolysis process than those with chemicals, but they have a less negative effect on the environment.ResultsThe enzymatic digestibility of eucalyptus was examined following a combined pretreatment without chemicals comprising a ball milling (BM) and hot-compressed water (HCW) treatment. The BM treatment simultaneously improved the digestibility of both glucan and xylan, and was effective in lowering the enzyme loading compared with the HCW treatment. The combination of HCW and BM treatment reduced the BM time. The eucalyptus treated with HCW (160°C, 30 minutes) followed by BM (20 minutes) had an approximately 70% yield of total sugar with a cellulase loading of 4 FPU/g substrate. This yield was comparable to the yields from samples treated with HCW (200°C, 30 minutes) or BM (40 minutes) hydrolyzed with 40 FPU/g substrate.ConclusionThe HCW treatment is useful in improving the milling efficiency. The combined HCW-BM treatment can save energy and enzyme loading.