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Structural reorganisation of cellulose fibrils in hydrothermally deconstructed lignocellulosic biomass and relationships with enzyme digestibility

Ibbett, Roger; Gaddipati, Sanyasi; Hill, Sandra; Tucker, Gregory A.

Structural reorganisation of cellulose fibrils in hydrothermally deconstructed lignocellulosic biomass and relationships with enzyme digestibility Thumbnail


Roger Ibbett

Sanyasi Gaddipati

Sandra Hill

Gregory A. Tucker


Background: The investigation of structural organisation in lignocellulose materials is important to understand
changes in cellulase accessibility and reactivity resulting from hydrothermal deconstruction, to allow development
of strategies to maximise bioethanol process efficiencies. To achieve progress, wheat straw lignocellulose and
comparative model wood cellulose were characterised following increasing severity of hydrothermal treatment.
Powder and fibre wide-angle X-ray diffraction techniques were employed (WAXD), complemented by enzyme
kinetic measurements up to high conversion.
Results: Evidence from WAXD indicated that cellulose fibrils are not perfectly crystalline. A reduction in fibril
crystallinity occurred due to hydrothermal treatment, although dimensional and orientational data showed that
fibril coherency and alignment were largely retained. The hypothetical inter-fibril spacing created by hydrothermal
deconstruction of straw was calculated to be insufficient for complete access by cellulases, although total digestion
of cellulose in both treated straw and model pulp was observed. Both treated straw and model pulps were
subjected to wet mechanical attrition, which caused separation of smaller fibril aggregates and fragments,
significantly increasing enzyme hydrolysis rate. No evidence from WAXD measurements was found for preferential
hydrolysis of non-crystalline cellulose at intermediate extent of digestion, for both wood pulp and hydrothermally
treated straw.
Conclusions: The increased efficiency of enzyme digestion of cellulose in the lignocellulosic cell wall following
hydrothermal treatment is a consequence of the improved fibril accessibility due to the loss of hemicellulose and
disruption of lignin. However, incomplete accessibility of cellulase at the internal surfaces of fibrillar aggregates
implies that etching type mechanisms will be important in achieving complete hydrolysis. The reduction in
crystalline perfection following hydrothermal treatment may lead to an increase in fibril reactivity, which could
amplify the overall improvement in rate of digestion due to accessibility gains. The lack of preferential digestion of
non-crystalline cellulose is consistent with the existence of localised conformational disorder, at surfaces and
defects, according to proposed semicrystalline fibril models. Cellulases may not interact in a fully selective manner
with such disordered environments, so fibril reactivity may be considered as a function of average conformational

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 2, 2013
Deposit Date Mar 31, 2014
Publicly Available Date Mar 31, 2014
Journal Biotechnology for Biofuels
Electronic ISSN 1754-6834
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 1
Article Number 33
Public URL
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