3D Electron Tomography of Pretreated Biomass Informs Atomic Modeling of Cellulose Microfibrils

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Fundamental insights into the macromolecular architecture of plant cell walls will elucidate new structure-property relationships and facilitate optimization of catalytic processes that produce fuels and chemicals from biomass. Here we introduce computational methodology to extract nanoscale geometry of cellulose microfibrils within thermochemically treated biomass directly from electron tomographic data sets. We quantitatively compare the cell wall nanostructure in corn stover following two leading pretreatment strategies: dilute acid with iron sulfate co-catalyst and ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX). Computational analysis of the tomographic data is used to extract mathematical descriptions for longitudinal axes of cellulose microfibrils from which we calculate their nanoscale curvature. These nanostructural measurements are used to inform the construction of atomistic models that exhibit features of cellulose within real, process-relevant biomass. By computational evaluation of these atomic models, we propose relationships between the crystal structure of cellulose Iβ and the nanoscale geometry of cellulose microfibrils.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8011-8019
Number of pages9
JournalACS Nano
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-60130


  • atomic modeling
  • biofuels
  • biomass nanostructure
  • cellulose microfibril
  • thermochemical pretreatment
  • transmission electron tomography


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