Performing the bioethanol production process at high solids loading is a requirement for economic feasibility at industrial scale. So far this has successfully been achieved using wheat straw and other agricultural residues at 30% of water insoluble solids (WIS), but for softwood species (i.e. spruce) this has been difficult to reach. The main reason behind this difference is the higher recalcitrance of woody substrates which require harsher pretreatment conditions, thus generating higher amounts of inhibitory compounds, ultimately lowering fermentation performances. In this work we studied ethanol production from spruce performing the whole process, from pretreatment to hydrolysis and fermentation, at 30% dry matter (equivalent to similar to 20% WIS). Hydrolysis and fermentation was performed in a horizontal free fall mixing reactor enabling efficient mixing at high solids loadings. In batch simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF), up to 76% cellulose to ethanol conversion was achieved resulting in a concentration of 51 g/kg of ethanol. Key to obtaining this high ethanol yield at these conditions was the use of a detoxification technology based on applying a soluble polyelectrolyte polymer (polyethylenimine, PEI) to absorb inhibitory compounds in the material. On average 50% removal and recovery of the main inhibitors (HMF, furfural, acetic acid and formic acid) was achieved dosing 1.5% w/w of soluble PEI. The use of PEI was compatible with operating the process at high solids loadings and enabled fermentation of hydrolysates, which was not possible without detoxification. In addition the possibility to recover the inhibitors and reuse PEI was studied. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.