Wheat straw was pretreated by wet oxidation (oxygen pressure, alkaline conditions, elevated temperature) or hydrothermal processing (without oxygen) in order to solubilize the hemicellulose, facilitating bio-conversion. The effect of oxygen pressure and sodium carbonate addition on hemicellulose solubilization was investigated. The two process parameters had little effect on the solubilization of hemicellulose. However alkaline conditions affected the furfural formation whereas oxygen had no effect. After pretreatment, the filtrate was used as a fermentation medium for thermophilic anaerobic bacterin. Of five different thermophilic bacteria used in this study only two strains produced ethanol with xylan as substrate, one of them being the strain A3 isolated from an Icelandic hot-spring. Probably other degradation products formed in the presence of oxygen might act as inhibitors. Adaptation of the microorganism to the wet oxidized filtrate was also examined. Copyright (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.