What is it about?

Organic solvents mixed with water are used to breaking down plant biomass to green fuels and chemicals, providing environmental and economical societal benefits. We reveal the success of this approach: solvents de-mix near biomass surfaces, facilitating the solubilization of biomass components.

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Why is it important?

We propose a simple principle that explains the success of biomass pretreatment technologies. Hydrophilic and hydrophobic biomass surfaces are solvated by single-component nanoclusters of complementary polarity. This principle can be employed to rationally improve the efficiency of biofuel and bioproduct production.


The presence of solvent nanoclusters had been speculated for years, but their experimental observation was missing because of technical limitations. We overcame these limitations by using neutron scattering experiments and molecular dynamics simulations and directly observe these nanoclusters. Further, we show that the simple principle that water and oil don’t mix drives the very complex and technologically-important biomass deconstruction.

Loukas Petridis

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This page is a summary of: Deconstruction of biomass enabled by local demixing of cosolvents at cellulose and lignin surfaces, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1922883117.
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