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12.03.2020 | Original Research Open Access

Characterisation of cellulose pulps isolated from Miscanthus using a low-cost acidic ionic liquid

Wei-Chien Tu, Lisa Weigand, Michael Hummel, Herbert Sixta, Agnieszka Brandt-Talbot, Jason P. Hallett
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The ionoSolv pretreatment generates a cellulose pulp by extracting hemicellulose and lignin using low-cost ionic liquids. In this study, cellulose pulp was obtained from Miscanthus × giganteus using the protic ionic liquid triethylammonium hydrogen sulfate [N2220][HSO4] with 20% water as a co-solvent and characterised in detail for its material properties as a function of pretreatment severity. We measured the particle size distribution, porosity and crystallinity of the unbleached pulps and the molar weight distribution of the cellulose contained within. We report that the surface area increased and the size of the pulp particles decreased as ionoSolv processing progressed. While the native cellulose I structure was maintained, the average degree of polymerisation of the cellulose was reduced to a DPn of around 300, showing the cellulose polymers are shortened. We correlate the pulp properties with enzymatic saccharification yields, concluding that enzymatic saccharification of the cellulose after ionoSolv pretreatment is mainly enhanced by removing hemicellulose and lignin. We also observed that overtreatment deteriorated saccharification yield and that this coincides with cellulose fibrils becoming coated with pseudolignin redeposited from the ionic liquid solution, as demonstrated by FT-IR spectroscopy. Pseudolignin deposition increases the apparent lignin content, which is likely to increase chemical demand in bleaching, suggesting that both glucose release and material use benefit from a minimum lignin content. Overall, this study demonstrates that cellulose pulps isolated with ionoSolv processing are not only a promising intermediate for high-yield release of purified glucose for biorefining, but also have attractive properties for materials applications that require cellulose I fibrils.

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