Plant are made up of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. These polymers can be extracted to form the chemical building blocks for bio-based materials in a range of industries from paper and textiles to pharmaceuticals, food, renewable chemicals and biofuels.
Breaking down plant biomass is challenging. Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin are interlinked in a complex structure which makes them difficult to separate.
Extracting biomass polymers usually involves a combination of mechanical, chemical and biological treatment. The first step is to pretreat the plant material. Pretreatment improves the digestibility of biomass but is also the most uneconomical part of the process. Existing technologies such as steam explosion, chemical pretreatment or a combination of both are costly, requiring large amounts of energy and chemicals.