Thermodynamics of cellulose solvation in water and the ionic liquid 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolim chloride

Adam S. Gross, Alexis T. Bell, Jhih-Wei Chu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Cellulose is present in biomass as crystalline microfibrils held together by a complex network of intermolecular interactions making it difficult to initiate its hydrolysis and conversion to fuels. While cellulose is insoluble in water and most organic solvents, complete dissolution of cellulose can be achieved in certain classes of ionic liquids (ILs). The present study was undertaken to analyze the thermodynamic driving forces of this process and to understand how the anions and cations comprising an IL interact with the different moieties of glucose residues to cause dissolution. All-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were performed at two extreme states of cellulose dissolution: a crystalline microfibril and a dissociated state in which all the glucan chains of the microfibril are fully separated from each other by at least four solvation shells. MD simulations of the two states were carried out in water and in the IL 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride (BmimCl) to provide a comprehensive analysis of solvent effects on cellulose dissolution. The results reveal two important molecular aspects of the mechanism of cellulose dissolution. The first is that the perturbation of solvent structures by the dissolved glucan chains can be a crucial factor in determining solubility, particularly for the insolubility of cellulose in water at 300 K. Second, both the Cl- and the Bmim+ ions of BmimCl interact with the moieties of glucan residues that form intersheet contacts, the most robust component of the interaction network of crystalline cellulose. Cl- anions can form hydrogen bonds (HBs) with the hydroxyl groups of glucan chains from either the equatorial or the axial directions. For Bmim+ cations, the calculated density profiles reveal that the contacts with glucan chains along the axial directions are closer than those along the equatorial directions. On the basis of the results of atomistic MD simulations, we propose that interacting with glucan chains along axial directions and disrupting the intersheet contacts of cellulose is an important ability of cellulose pretreatment solvents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13433-13440
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number46
StatePublished - 24 Nov 2011

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