On the molecular origins of biomass recalcitrance: The interaction network and solvation structures of cellulose microfibrils

Adam S. Gross, Jhih-Wei Chu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations

Abstract

Biomass recalcitrance is a fundamental bottleneck to producing fuels from renewable sources. To understand its molecular origin, we characterize the interaction network and solvation structures of cellulose microfibrils via all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. The network is divided into three components: intrachain, interchain, and intersheet interactions. Analysis of their spatial dependence and interaction energetics indicate that intersheet interactions are the most robust and strongest component and do not display a noticeable dependence on solvent exposure. Conversely, the strength of surface-exposed intrachain and interchain hydrogen bonds is significantly reduced. Comparing the interaction networks of Iβ and I α cellulose also shows that the number of intersheet interactions is a clear descriptor that distinguishes the two allomorphs and is consistent with the observation that Iβ is the more stable form. These results highlight the dominant role of the often-overlooked intersheet interactions in giving rise to biomass recalcitrance. We also analyze the solvation structures around the surfaces of microfibrils and show that the structural and chemical features at cellulose surfaces constrict water molecules into specific density profiles and pair correlation functions. Calculations of water density and compressibility in the hydration shell show noticeable but not drastic differences. Therefore, specific solvation structures are more prominent signatures of different surfaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13333-13341
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Volume114
Issue number42
DOIs
StatePublished - 28 Oct 2010

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