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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Sequential extraction of hemicelluloses by subcritical water improves saccharification of hybrid aspen wood grown in greenhouse and field conditions

Sivan, Pramod; Heinonen, Emilia; Gandla, Madhavi Latha; Jimenez-Quero, Amparo; Ozeren, Husamettin Deniz; Jonsson, Leif J.; Mellerowicz, Ewa J.; Vilaplana, Francisco


Fast growing hardwoods are one of the major renewable resources available to produce bio-based materials, platform chemicals and biofuels. However, the industrial processing of lignocellulosic biomass is hindered by the complex molecular structure of the cell wall components and their supramolecular organization. This highlights the necessity of improving green processing strategies to enhance biomass conversion to valuable products from industrial wood production species. In the present study, we implemented a hydrothermal step by sequential subcritical water (SW) in aspen wood prior to saccharification and validated the process for trees grown in greenhouse and field conditions. Subcritical water enables extraction of non-cellulosic cell wall polysaccharides in native polymeric form. A major part of the pectic fraction was easily extracted within the first 10 min, while acetylated xylan was enriched in the subsequent extracts after 20- and 30-min rounds. Prolonged extraction (above 60 min) resulted in partial deacetylation and a reduction of the molar mass of xylan. The analysis of the residues enriched with cellulose and lignin showed several micromorphological changes caused by subcritical water treatment, such as an increased porosity, a loosening of the fibre matrix and a decrease in the macrofibrillar dimensions. These morphological and molecular changes in the organization of cell wall polymers after SW treatment significantly enhanced saccharification yields compared to those of non-treated aspen wood chips from both field and greenhouse conditions. Our study demonstrates that SW can be implemented as pretreatment prior to saccharification reducing the requirements for chemical acid pretreatments. This process enables the extraction of native non-cellulosic cell wall polymers for potential material applications and promotes the subsequent biochemical conversion of the residual biomass into fermentable sugars and platform chemicals in future biorefineries.

Published in

Green Chemistry
2023, Volume: 25, number: 14, pages: 5634-5646