Chemists discover key to improved production of biofuels and biomaterials
As the world seeks and demands more sustainable sources of energy and materials, plant biomass can provide the solution by serving as a renewable resource for the production of biomaterials and biofuels. However, until now, the complex physical and chemical interactions in plant biomass have been a challenge in post-harvest processing.
In a new study Posted in Nature Communication, Associate Professor Tuo Wang of the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University (LSU) and his research team reveal how carbohydrates interact with the aromatic polymer, lignin, to form plant biomass. This new information can help advance the development of better technology to use biomass for energy and materials.
Wang’s research team examined the nanoscale assembly of lignocellulosic components in several plant species, including grasses and broadleaved and softwood species. Grasses contain many food crops, such as corn, and are the main feedstock for the production of biofuels in the United States. Woody plants, often used for building materials, have emerged as promising candidates for the next generation of biofuels to reduce dependence on food crops.
The team used their expertise in solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to compare the nanoscale organization of lignin-carbohydrate interfaces in the three plant species and reveal how biopolymer structures affect their association with d other components of the cell wall.
“We found that hemicellulose xylan uses its flat structure to bind cellulose microfibrils and primarily relies on its non-flat structure to associate with lignin nanodomains,” Wang said. “However, in tightly packed woody materials, cellulose is also forced to serve as a secondary interactor with lignin.”
Newly discovered high-resolution information on the organization of lignin-carbohydrate interfaces has revamped research on plant biomaterials. Thanks to the spectroscopy method, the studied samples were preserved in their native state, without chemical disturbance. The results revealed structural differences underlying cell wall construction between different plants.
The research was conducted by a team consisting of LSU graduate students Alex Kirui and Wancheng Zhao as well as postdoctoral researchers Fabien Deligey and Xue Kang from the Wang Research Group; Frederic Mentink-Vigier, expert in dynamic nuclear polarization technique at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (Tallahassee, Florida) who collaborated on the project; and Hui Yang from Pennsylvania State University, who offered extensive modeling expertise.
This methodology offers future opportunities to examine complex biomolecules in different plants and modified mutants, which will contribute to the development of better technology for the production of biorenewable energy and biomaterials.
– This press release was originally posted on the Louisiana State University website