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Effects of organosolv and ammonia pretreatments on lignin properties and its inhibition for enzymatic hydrolysis

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Green Chemistry
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Lignin offers structural support and protection for plant cell walls; however, it also contributes to biomass recalcitrance and the costs of biofuel production via the biological pathway. Organosolv and ammonia pretreatments have been developed to reduce biomass recalcitrance and improve sugar release performance during enzymatic hydrolysis. It is believed that lignin properties are related to its inhibition on enzymatic hydrolysis; therefore, understanding the characteristics of lignin is a key for effective biomass conversion to biofuels. In this study, an organosolv pretreatment using 60% ethanol with 1.25% H2SO4 significantly deconstructed poplar lignin and reduced its molecular weights due to the cleavage of lignin inter-unit linkages. The organosolv pretreatment increased the contents of phenolic OH units and the lignin residue showed a high cellulase maximum adsorption capacity. Ammonia pretreatment with 5% ammonium hydroxide was not as effective as organosolv pretreatment on lignin deconstruction. Organosolv lignin residue had lower lignin S/G ratio than the untreated one. Compared to the organosolv lignin residue and untreated lignin, ammonia lignin residue had a higher cellulase adsorption affinity. In addition, the effects of lignin on cellulose hydrolysis was investigated and the results suggested that the presence of lignin with cellulose substrates reduced cellulose hydrolysis, and its inhibitory effect was primarily determined by the lignin properties after each pretreatment. The organosolv pretreatment resulted in a slightly lower cellulase binding strength (249.7 mL g−1) on poplar lignin than that on untreated samples (261.1 mL g−1), while ammonia lignin residue showed a higher cellulase binding strength (402.8 mL g−1) and had more significant inhibition effect on cellulose hydrolysis. These results demonstrated that the binding strength significantly affected the lignin-derived inhibition on enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose in the cellulose-lignin mixtures.