The effect of liquid hot water pretreatment on the chemical–structural alteration and the reduced recalcitrance in poplar

Li, Mi; Cao, Shilin; Meng, Xianzhi; Studer, Michael Hans-Peter; Wyman, Charles E.; Ragauskas, Arthur J.; Pu, Yunqiao (2017). The effect of liquid hot water pretreatment on the chemical–structural alteration and the reduced recalcitrance in poplar Biotechnology for Biofuels, 10(1), pp. 1-13. 10.1186/s13068-017-0926-6

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Background: Hydrothermal pretreatment using liquid hot water (LHW) is capable of substantially reducing the cell wall recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass. It enhances the saccharification of polysaccharides, particularly cellulose, into glucose with relatively low capital required. Due to the close association with biomass recalcitrance, the structural change of the components of lignocellulosic materials during the pretreatment is crucial to understand pretreatment chemistry and advance the bio-economy. Although the LHW pretreatment has been extensively applied and studied, the molecular structural alteration during pretreatment and its significance to reduced recalcitrance have not been well understood. Results: We investigated the effects of LHW pretreatment with different severity factors (log R0) on the structural changes of fast-grown poplar (Populus trichocarpa). With the severity factor ranging from 3.6 to 4.2, LHW pretreatment resulted in a substantial xylan solubilization by 50–77% (w/w, dry matter). The molecular weights of the remained hemicellulose in pretreated solids also have been significantly reduced by 63–75% corresponding to LHW severity factor from 3.6 to 4.2. In addition, LHW had a considerable impact on the cellulose structure. The cellulose crystallinity increased 6–9%, whereas its degree of polymerization decreased 35–65% after pretreatment. We found that the pretreatment severity had an empirical linear correlation with the xylan solubilization (R2 = 0.98, r = + 0.99), hemicellulose molecular weight reduction (R2 = 0.97, r = − 0.96 and R2 = 0.93, r = − 0.98 for number-average and weight-average degree of polymerization, respectively), and cellulose crystallinity index increase (R2 = 0.98, r = + 0.99). The LHW pretreatment also resulted in small changes in lignin structure such as decrease of β-O-4′ ether linkages and removal of cinnamyl alcohol end group and acetyl group, while the S/G ratio of lignin in LHW pretreated poplar residue remained no significant change compared with the untreated poplar. Conclusions: This study revealed that the solubilization of xylan, the reduction of hemicellulose molecular weights and cellulose degree of polymerization, and the cleavage of alkyl–aryl ether bonds in lignin resulted from LHW pretreatment are critical factors associated with reduced cell wall recalcitrance. The chemical–structural changes of the three major components, cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose, during LHW pretreatment provide useful and fundamental information of factors governing feedstock recalcitrance during hydrothermal pretreatment.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Resource-efficient agricultural production systems
School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Agriculture


Li, Mi;
Cao, Shilin;
Meng, Xianzhi;
Studer, Michael Hans-Peter0000-0003-1083-0967;
Wyman, Charles E.;
Ragauskas, Arthur J. and
Pu, Yunqiao




David Zimmer

Date Deposited:

12 Feb 2020 07:51

Last Modified:

18 Dec 2020 13:28

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Poplar, Liquid hot water pretreatment, Biomass recalcitrance, Biopolymers structures




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