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Nanometrology of Biomass for Bioenergy: The Role of Atomic Force Microscopy and Spectroscopy in Plant Cell Characterization...

by Anne Charrier, Aude Lereu, Rubye H Farahi, Brian H Davison, Ali Passian
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Frontiers in Energy Research
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Ethanol production using extracted cellulose from plant cell walls (PCW) is a very promising approach to biofuel production. However, efficient throughput has been hindered by the phenomenon of recalcitrance, leading to high costs for the lignocellulosic conversion. To overcome recalcitrance, it is necessary to understand the chemical and structural properties of the plant biological materials, which have evolved to generate the strong and cohesive features observed in plants. Therefore, tools and methods that allow the investigation of how the different molecular components of PCW are organized and distributed and how this impacts the mechanical properties of the plants are needed but challenging due to the molecular and morphological complexity of PCW. Atomic force microscopy (AFM), capitalizing on the interfacial nanomechanical forces, encompasses a suite of measurement modalities for nondestructive material characterization. Here, we present a review focused on the utilization of AFM for imaging and determination of physical properties of plant-based specimens. The presented review encompasses the AFM derived techniques for topography imaging (AM-AFM), mechanical properties (QFM), and surface/subsurface (MSAFM, HPFM) chemical composition imaging. In particular, the motivation and utility of force microscopy of plant cell walls from the early fundamental investigations to achieve a better understanding of the cell wall architecture, to the recent studies for the sake of advancing the biofuel research are discussed. An example of delignification protocol is described and the changes in morphology, chemical composition and mechanical properties and their correlation at the nanometer scale along the process are illustrated.