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Structural Reorganization of Noncellulosic Polymers Observed In Situ during Dilute Acid Pretreatment by Small-Angle Neutron S...

Publication Type
Journal Name
ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Publication Date
Page Numbers
314 to 322

Production of second-generation bioethanol from lignocellulosic biomass requires pretreatment to open the plant cell wall structure and improve enzyme access. Many different thermochemical pretreatments have been extensively developed and employed, but the exact nature of plant cell wall recalcitrance and the most efficient and economical approach to alter plant cell wall structure via pretreatment still remain elusive. In order to understand the role of noncellulosic switchgrass polymers on the overall efficiency of pretreatment, the structural evolution of the noncellulosic polymers of the plant cell wall were investigated during dilute acid pretreatment (DAP) by employing in-situ small-angle neutron scattering (in-situ SANS). In this study, we observed real-time structural changes not possible to observe by any other technique. To deconvolute the structural evolution of lignin and hemicellulose polymers during DAP, native switchgrass (NATV), and isolated holocellulose (HOLO) and cellulose (CELL) fractions from NATV were studied. Our results show that aggregate particles first appear around 80 °C for NATV and HOLO samples. Due to the low temperature and pretreatment severity condition, these particles are likely derived from hemicellulose. The formations of much larger aggregate particles, only observed in the NATV sample, were attributed to lignin. For the HOLO sample, as the temperature and pretreatment severity condition increased, hemicellulose-derived aggregate particle sizes increased, suggesting this process was the nucleation and early stage formation of pseudolignin particles. Consistent with our interpretation of structural evolutions in NATV and HOLO samples, no formation of aggregate particles was observed in CELL samples for the entire duration of the pretreatment. These results suggest that not only lignin but also hemicellulose can form aggregate particles within plant cell walls during pretreatment.