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Physicochemical Structural Changes of Poplar and Switchgrass during Biomass Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis

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journal contribution
posted on 27.07.2016, 20:15 by Xianzhi Meng, Qining Sun, Matyas Kosa, Fang Huang, Yunqiao Pu, Arthur J. Ragauskas
Converting lignocellulosics to simple sugars for second generation bioethanol is complicated due to biomass recalcitrance, and it requires a pretreatment stage prior to enzymatic hydrolysis. In this study, native, pretreated (acid and alkaline) and partially hydrolyzed poplar and switchgrass were characterized by using Simons’ staining for cellulose accessibility, GPC for degree of polymerization (DP), and FTIR for chemical structure of plant cell wall. The susceptibility of the pretreated biomass to enzymatic hydrolysis could not be easily predicted from differences in cellulose DP and accessibility. During hydrolysis, the most significant DP reduction occurred at the very beginning of hydrolysis, and the DP began to decrease at a significantly slower rate after this initial period, suggesting an existence of a synergistic action of endo- and exoglucanases that contribute to the occurrence of a “peeling off” mechanism. Cellulose accessibility was found to be increased at the beginning of hydrolysis, after reaching a maximum value then started to decrease. The fresh enzyme restart hydrolysis experiment along with the accessibility data indicated that the factors associated with the nature of enzyme such as irreversible nonspecific binding of cellulases by lignin and steric hindrance of enzymes should be responsible for the gradual slowing down of the reaction rate.