Nanostructure of cellulose microfibrils in spruce wood

February 17, 2012
Chain model of the cellulose molecules, as examined using neutron scattering at the ILL.

Scientists at Institut Laue-Langevin in Europe recently described in PNAS the first detailed structure of cellulose fibres from any higher plant.

Certain produce highly crystalline cellulose fibres from which the structure of crystalline cellulose was deduced nearly a decade ago using at the ILL. However only about half of the cellulose in fibres from wood and is crystalline: the rest is disordered, and the challenge was to find out how the crystalline and disordered parts fit together.

The results give us insights into how plants make cellulose, how the cellulose that they make defines their shape and how it provides their . Knowing the structure of cellulose fibres will also help us to use them in making strong, sustainable and in degrading them to make second-generation biofuels.

The wood of the Sitka spruce was selected, as the cellulose is uniformly oriented. (Photo: J.P. McLean)

These experiments required wood in which the cellulose was particularly uniformly oriented, giving it a very high strength: weight ratio.

Scientists used Canadian Sitka spruce wood from a classic racing yacht’s mast. This wood is thought to have been harvested in the 1940s for aircraft construction during WWII. They also used Sitka spruce samples carefully selected from a Forestry Commission breeding trial: the best of this material was comparable with the old-growth Canadian wood.

Neutron scattering at the instrument D11 of the Institut Laue-Langevin gave the key evidence about the structure of the cellulose. Thus, the diameter of the cellulose microfibrils could be determined. As the hydrogen molecules were exchanged at the microfibril surfaces for deuterium, the D2O pushed the microfibrils apart. Penetration of D2O between the microfibrils is relevant for the enzymatic depolymerisation of the cellulose during biofuel manufacture.

Explore further: Formation of cellulose fibers tracked for the first time

More information: PNAS paper

Related Stories

Formation of cellulose fibers tracked for the first time

April 20, 2006

Cellulose--a fibrous molecule found in all plants--is the most abundant biological material on Earth. It is also a favored target of renewable, plant-based biofuels research. Despite overwhelming interest, scientists know ...

'Green' cars could be made from pineapples and bananas

March 28, 2011

Your next new car hopefully won't be a lemon. But it could be a pineapple or a banana. That's because scientists in Brazil have developed a more effective way to use fibers from these and other plants in a new generation ...

Cellulose breakdown

June 24, 2011

Ionic liquids have emerged as promising new solvents capable of disrupting the cellulose crystalline structure in a wide range of biomass feedstocks.

Recommended for you

Scientists create revolutionary material to clean oil spills

November 30, 2015

Deakin University scientists have manufactured a revolutionary material that can clean up oil spills, which could save the earth from potential future disasters such as any repeat of the 2010 Gulf Coast BP disaster that wreaked ...

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.