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Structural changes of corn stover lignin during acid pretreatment

Moxley, Geoffrey, Gaspar, Armindo Ribeiro, Higgins, Don, Xu, Hui
Journal of industrial microbiology & biotechnology 2012 v.39 no.9 pp. 1289-1299
cellulose, corn stover, depolymerization, digestibility, enzymatic hydrolysis, ethanol, hydrolysis, lignin, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, renewable energy sources, solubilization, temperature, xylan
In this study, raw corn stover was subjected to dilute acid pretreatments over a range of severities under conditions similar to those identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in their techno-economic analysis of biochemical conversion of corn stover to ethanol. The pretreated corn stover then underwent enzymatic hydrolysis with yields above 70 % at moderate enzyme loading conditions. The enzyme exhausted lignin residues were characterized by 31P NMR spectroscopy and functional moieties quantified and correlated to enzymatic hydrolysis yields. Results from this study indicated that both xylan solubilization and lignin degradation are important for improving the enzyme accessibility and digestibility of dilute acid pretreated corn stover. At lower pretreatment temperatures, there is a good correlation between xylan solubilization and cellulose accessibility. At higher pretreatment temperatures, lignin degradation correlated better with cellulose accessibility, represented by the increase in phenolic groups. During acid pretreatment, the ratio of syringyl/guaiacyl functional groups also gradually changed from less than 1 to greater than 1 with the increase in pretreatment temperature. This implies that more syringyl units are released from lignin depolymerization of aryl ether linkages than guaiacyl units. The condensed phenolic units are also correlated with the increase in pretreatment temperature up to 180 °C, beyond which point condensation reactions may overtake the hydrolysis of aryl ether linkages as the dominant reactions of lignin, thus leading to decreased cellulose accessibility.