U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

New Approach to Visualize Biomass Solubilization During Ionic Liquid Pretreatment
Published: July 29, 2010
Posted: October 01, 2010

JBEI researchers have developed a technique, based on the natural autofluorescence of plant cell walls, that enables the dynamic imaging of biomass solubilization during ionic liquid pretreatment. Using this technique, researchers can accurately and quickly assess the ionic liquid’s performance without the need for labor-intensive and time-consuming chemical and immunological labeling. Working with switchgrass and using the ionic liquid known as 1-n-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate (EmimAc), the researchers observed a rapid swelling of secondary plant cell walls within 10 minutes of exposure at relatively mild pretreatment temperatures (120°C). This reaction indicates a disruption of hydrogen bonding within cellulose and between cellulose and lignin. The swelling was followed by complete dissolution of biomass over 3 hours. By adding water to the solubilized biomass mixture, cellulose can be precipitated out and separated from the lignin, which remains in solution. This recovered cellulose was efficiently hydrolyzed into its sugar components by a commercial cellulase cocktail over a relatively short time interval. Currently, those ionic liquids that are most effective at dissolving plant cell-wall polymers are prohibitively expensive for use on a mass scale. Understanding how ionic liquids are able to dissolve lignocellulosic biomass could pave the way for finding new and better varieties for use in biofuel production.

Reference: This research was reported in Singh, S., B. A. Simmons, and K. P. Vogel. 2009. “Visualization of Biomass Solubilization and Cellulose Regeneration During Ionic Liquid Pretreatment of Switchgrass,” Biotechnology and Bioengineering 104(1), 68–75.

Contact: John Houghton, SC-23.2, (301) 903-8288
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Plant Systems and Feedstocks, Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • Research Area: Sustainable Biofuels and Bioproducts
  • Research Area: DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC)
  • Research Area: Research Technologies and Methodologies

Division: SC-23.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)