Plant biomass is the source of the next generation renewable and sustainable industrial feedstocks. Also known as lignocellulosic biomass, this primary feedstock is made up of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. They form the chemical blocks for bio-based materials in a range of industries including paper, textiles, pharmaceuticals, food, green chemicals and biofuels.
Conventional conversion of plant biomass to high-value bio-based products requires a combination of mechanical, chemical and/or biological treatments. Pretreating plant biomass is an essential first step in the process. It is required to improve the ‘digestibility’ of plant biomass into cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin but is also the most uneconomical part of the process.
Destructuring plant biomass is a challenge for several reasons. These include the structure of cellulose and lignin interaction. Existing pretreatments target one or more of these aspects by changing the physical /chemical composition and structure of the lignocellulosic biomass. But all have associated disadvantages. At their present scale, pretreatment processes are usually steam explosion or chemically-based, or composed of both and require large amounts of energy and chemicals, all at substantial expense.