There is currently much interest in the economic use of cellulosic biomass as a source of renewable fuels. This process typically involves the enzymatic hydrolysis of plant matter to afford soluble sugars for subsequent fermentation steps. The cost of cellulase enzymes presents a critical barrier to the commercialization of these processes. In this work, we demonstrate that a new family of polymer additives based on NIPAm can increase enzyme performance substantially. When applied to an industrially relevant combination of enzymes and lignin-containing biomass, polymer additives allow a 60% reduction in enzyme loading to achieve the same level of saccharification. Evidence presented herein suggests that these polymers function through multiple mechanisms, including (1) preventing enzyme denaturation through shear and interfacial interactions, (2) preventing non-productive adsorption to lignin, and (3) altering the cellulose structure. An advantage of these polymers over other additives is their thermoresponsive behavior, enabling their recovery and reuse. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 1792–1800. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.