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Lignocellulose is the most abundant biomass on earth. However, biomass recalcitrance has become a major factor affecting biofuel production. Although cellulose crystallinity significantly influences biomass saccharification, little is known about the impact of three major wall polymers on cellulose crystallization. In this study, we selected six typical pairs of Miscanthus samples that presented different cell wall compositions, and then compared their cellulose crystallinity and biomass digestibility after various chemical pretreatments.
A Miscanthus sample with a high hemicelluloses level was determined to have a relatively low cellulose crystallinity index (CrI) and enhanced biomass digestibility at similar rates after pretreatments of NaOH and H2SO4 with three concentrations. By contrast, a Miscanthus sample with a high cellulose or lignin level showed increased CrI and low biomass saccharification, particularly after H2SO4 pretreatment. Correlation analysis revealed that the cellulose CrI negatively affected biomass digestion. Increased hemicelluloses level by 25% or decreased cellulose and lignin contents by 31% and 37% were also found to result in increased hexose yields by 1.3-times to 2.2-times released from enzymatic hydrolysis after NaOH or H2SO4 pretreatments. The findings indicated that hemicelluloses were the dominant and positive factor, whereas cellulose and lignin had synergistic and negative effects on biomass digestibility.
Using six pairs of Miscanthus samples with different cell wall compositions, hemicelluloses were revealed to be the dominant factor that positively determined biomass digestibility after pretreatments with NaOH or H2SO4 by negatively affecting cellulose crystallinity. The results suggested potential approaches to the genetic modifications of bioenergy crops.