Elucidating the Role of Ferrous Ion Cocatalyst in Enhancing Dilute Acid Pretreatment of Lignocellulosic Biomass

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Background: Recently developed iron cocatalyst enhancement of dilute acid pretreatment of biomass is a promising approach for enhancing sugar release from recalcitrant lignocellulosic biomass. However, very little is known about the underlying mechanisms of this enhancement. In the current study, our aim was to identify several essential factors that contribute to ferrous ion-enhanced efficiency during dilute acid pretreatment of biomass and to initiate the investigation of the mechanisms that result in this enhancement. Results: During dilute acid and ferrous ion cocatalyst pretreatments, we observed concomitant increases in solubilized sugars in the hydrolysate and reducing sugars in the (insoluble) biomass residues. We also observed enhancements in sugar release during subsequent enzymatic saccharification of iron cocatalyst-pretreated biomass. Fourier transform Raman spectroscopy showed that major peaks representing the C-O-C and C-H bonds in cellulose are significantly attenuated by iron cocatalyst pretreatment. Imaging using Prussian blue staining indicated that Fe 2+ ions associate with both cellulose/xylan and lignin in untreated as well as dilute acid/Fe 2+ ion-pretreated corn stover samples. Analyses by scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy revealed structural details of biomass after dilute acid/Fe 2+ ion pretreatment, in which delamination and fibrillation of the cell wall were observed. Conclusions: By using this multimodal approach, we have revealed that (1) acid-ferrous ion-assisted pretreatment increases solubilization and enzymatic digestion of both cellulose and xylan to monomers and (2) this pretreatment likely targets multiple chemistries in plant cell wall polymer networks, including those represented by the C-O-C and C-H bonds in cellulose.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number48
Number of pages16
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
StatePublished - 2011

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-52200


  • biomass
  • cellulose
  • corn stover
  • cotton linter
  • dilute acid pretreatment
  • ferrous ions
  • filter paper
  • Fourier transform
  • iron cocatalyst
  • metal cocatalyst
  • Raman spectroscopy


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