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To evaluate sugar recoveries and fermentabilities of eight lignocellulosic raw materials following mild acid pretreatment and enzyme hydrolysis using a recombinant strain of Zymomonas mobilis.Dilute acid pretreatment (2% H2SO4) with 10% (w/v) substrate loading was performed at 134°C for 60 min followed by enzyme hydrolysis at 60°C. The results demonstrated that hydrolysis of herbaceous raw materials resulted in higher sugar recoveries (up to 60–75%) than the woody sources (<50%). Fermentation studies with recombinant Z. mobilis ZM4 (pZB5) demonstrated that final ethanol concentrations and yields were also higher for the herbaceous hydrolysates. Significant reduction in growth rates and specific rates of sugar uptake and ethanol production occurred for all hydrolysates, with the greatest reductions evident for woody hydrolysates. Further studies on optimization of enzyme hydrolysis established that higher sugar recoveries were achieved at 50°C compared to 60°C following acid pretreatment.Of the various raw materials evaluated, the highest ethanol yields and productivities were achieved with wheat straw and sugarcane bagasse hydrolysates. Sorghum straw, sugarcane tops and Arundo donax hydrolysates were similar in their characteristics, while fermentation of woody hydrolysates (oil mallee, pine and eucalyptus) resulted in relatively low ethanol concentrations and productivities. The concentrations of a range of inhibitory compounds likely to have influence the fermentation kinetics were determined in the various hydrolysates.The study focuses on lignocellulosic materials available for second generation ethanol fermentations designed to use renewable agricultural/forestry biomass rather than food-based resources. From the results, it is evident that relatively good sugar and ethanol yields can be achieved from some herbaceous raw materials (e.g. sugarcane bagasse and sorghum straw), while much lower yields were obtained from woody biomass.