Deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals

Annu Rev Chem Biomol Eng. 2011;2:121-45. doi: 10.1146/annurev-chembioeng-061010-114205.


Plants represent a vast, renewable resource and are well suited to provide sustainably for humankind's transportation fuel needs. To produce infrastructure-compatible fuels from biomass, two challenges remain: overcoming plant cell wall recalcitrance to extract sugar and phenolic intermediates, and reduction of oxygenated intermediates to fuel molecules. To compete with fossil-based fuels, two primary routes to deconstruct cell walls are under development, namely biochemical and thermochemical conversion. Here, we focus on overcoming recalcitrance with biochemical conversion, which uses low-severity thermochemical pretreatment followed by enzymatic hydrolysis to produce soluble sugars. Many challenges remain, including understanding how pretreatments affect the physicochemical nature of heterogeneous cell walls; determination of how enzymes deconstruct the cell wall effectively with the aim of designing superior catalysts; and resolution of issues associated with the co-optimization of pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. Here, we highlight some of the scientific challenges and open questions with a particular focus on problems across multiple length scales.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biofuels*
  • Biomass*
  • Catalysis
  • Cell Wall / chemistry
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Cellulases / chemistry
  • Cellulases / metabolism
  • Cellulose / chemistry*
  • Cellulose / metabolism*
  • Fungal Proteins / chemistry
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Hydrolysis
  • Lignin / chemistry*
  • Lignin / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Structure
  • Organic Chemicals / chemistry*
  • Plants / anatomy & histology
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Trichoderma / enzymology


  • Biofuels
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Cellulose
  • Lignin
  • Cellulases