Electron microscopy of lignocellulosic biomass following high-temperature pretreatment revealed the presence of spherical formations on the surface of the residual biomass. The hypothesis that these droplet formations are composed of lignins and possible lignin carbohydrate complexes is being explored. Experiments were conducted to better understand the formation of these “lignin” droplets and the possible implications they might have on the enzymatic saccharification of pretreated biomass. It was demonstrated that these droplets are produced from corn stover during pretreatment under neutral and acidic pH at and above 130 °C, and that they can deposit back onto the surface of residual biomass. The deposition of droplets produced under certain pretreatment conditions (acidic pH; T > 150 °C) and captured onto pure cellulose was shown to have a negative effect (5–20%) on the enzymatic saccharification of this substrate. It was noted that droplet density (per unit area) was greater and droplet size more variable under conditions where the greatest impact on enzymatic cellulose conversion was observed. These results indicate that this phenomenon has the potential to adversely affect the efficiency of enzymatic conversion in a lignocellulosic biorefinery.
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