BackgroundBiobutanol is promising and renewable alternative to traditional fossil fuels and could be produced by Clostridium species from lignocellulosic biomass. However, biomass is recalcitrant to be hydrolyzed into fermentable sugars attributed to the densely packed structure by layers of lignin. Development of pretreatment reagents and processes for increasing surface area, removing hemicellulose and lignin, and enhancing the relative content of cellulose is currently an area of great interest. Deep eutectic solvents (DESs), a new class of green solvents, are effective in the pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass. However, it remains challenging to achieve high titers of total sugars and usually requires combinatorial pretreatment with other reagents. In this study, we aim to develop novel DESs with high application potential in biomass pretreatment and high biocompatibility for biobutanol fermentation.ResultsSeveral DESs with betaine chloride and ethylamine chloride (EaCl) as hydrogen bond acceptors were synthesized. Among them, EaCl:LAC with lactic acid as hydrogen bond donor displayed the best performance in the pretreatment of corncob. Only by single pretreatment with EaCl:LAC, total sugars as high as 53.5 g L−1 could be reached. Consecutive batches for pretreatment of corncob were performed using gradiently decreased cellulase by 5 FPU g−1. At the end of the sixth batch, the concentration and specific yield of total sugars were 58.8 g L−1 and 706 g kg−1 pretreated corncob, saving a total of 50% cellulase. Utilizing hydrolysate as carbon source, butanol titer of 10.4 g L−1 was achieved with butanol yield of 137 g kg−1 pretreated corncob by Clostridium saccharobutylicum DSM13864.ConclusionsEthylamine and lactic acid-based deep eutectic solvent is promising in pretreatment of corncob with high total sugar concentrations and compatible for biobutanol fermentation. This study provides an efficient pretreatment reagent for facilely reducing recalcitrance of lignocellulosic materials and a promising process for biobutanol fermentation from renewable biomass.