Copper(II) 2,2′-bipyridine (CuII(bpy))-catalyzed alkaline hydrogen peroxide (AHP) pretreatment was performed on three biomass feedstocks including alkali pre-extracted switchgrass, silver birch, and a hybrid poplar cultivar. This catalytic approach was found to improve the subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis of plant cell wall polysaccharides to monosaccharides for all biomass types at alkaline pH relative to uncatalyzed pretreatment. The hybrid poplar exhibited the most significant improvement in enzymatic hydrolysis with monomeric sugar release and conversions more than doubling from 30% to 61% glucan conversion, while lignin solubilization was increased from 36.6% to 50.2% and hemicellulose solubilization was increased from 14.9% to 32.7%. It was found that CuII(bpy)-catalyzed AHP pretreatment of cellulose resulted in significantly more depolymerization than uncatalyzed AHP pretreatment (78.4% vs. 49.4% decrease in estimated degree of polymerization) and that carboxyl content the cellulose was significantly increased as well (fivefold increase vs. twofold increase). Together, these results indicate that CuII(bpy)-catalyzed AHP pretreatment represents a promising route to biomass deconstruction for bioenergy applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 1078–1086. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.