National Research Council of Canada. National Institute for Nanotechnology
3D-RISM-KH molecular theory of solvation; biofuel; hemicellulose; hydrophobic interactions; plant biomass recalcitrance; solvation free energy
Plant biomass recalcitrance, a major obstacle to achieving sustainable production of second generation biofuels, arises mainly from the amorphous cell-wall matrix containing lignin and hemicellulose assembled into a complex supramolecular network that coats the cellulose fibrils. We employed the statistical-mechanical, 3D reference interaction site model with the Kovalenko–Hirata closure approximation (or 3D-RISM-KH molecular theory of solvation) to reveal the supramolecular interactions in this network and provide molecular-level insight into the effective lignin–lignin and lignin–hemicellulose thermodynamic interactions. We found that such interactions are hydrophobic and entropy-driven, and arise from the expelling of water from the mutual interaction surfaces. The molecular origin of these interactions is carbohydrate−π and π–π stacking forces, whose strengths are dependent on the lignin chemical composition. Methoxy substituents in the phenyl groups of lignin promote substantial entropic stabilization of the ligno-hemicellulosic matrix. Our results provide a detailed molecular view of the fundamental interactions within the secondary plant cell walls that lead to recalcitrance.
The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters6, no. 1: 206–211.