Stimulation and inhibition of enzymatic hydrolysis by organosolv lignins as determined by zeta potential and hydrophobicity
Background: Lignin typically inhibits enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass, but certain organosolv lignins or lignosulfonates enhance enzymatic hydrolysis. The hydrophobic and electrostatic interactions between lignin and cellulases play critical roles in the enzymatic hydrolysis process. However, how to incorporate these two interactions into the consideration of lignin effects has not been investigated.
Results: We examined the physicochemical properties and the structures of ethanol organosolv lignins (EOL) from hardwood and softwood and ascertained the association between lignin properties and their inhibitory and stimulatory effects on enzymatic hydrolysis. The zeta potential and hydrophobicity of EOL lignin samples, isolated from organosolv pretreatment of cottonwood (CW), black willow (BW), aspen (AS), eucalyptus (EH), and loblolly pine (LP), were determined and correlated with their effects on enzymatic hydrolysis of Avicel. EOLs from CW, BW, and AS improved the 72 h hydrolysis yield by 8–12%, while EOLs from EH and LP decreased the 72 h hydrolysis yield by 6 and 16%, respectively. The results showed a strong correlation between the 72 h hydrolysis yield with hydrophobicity and zeta potential. The correlation indicated that the hydrophobicity of EOL had a negative effect and the negative zeta potential of EOL had a positive effect. HSQC NMR spectra showed that ß-O-4 linkages in lignin react with ethanol to form an a-ethoxylated ß-O-4 substructure (A) during organosolv pretreatment. Considerable amounts of C2,6– H2,6 correlation in p-hydroxybenzoate (PB) units were observed for EOL–CW, EOL–BW, and EOL–AS, but not for EOL–EH and EOL–LP.
Conclusions: This study revealed that the effect of lignin on enzymatic hydrolysis is a function of both hydrophobic interactions and electrostatic repulsions. The lignin inhibition is controlled by lignin hydrophobicity and the lignin stimulation is governed by the negative zeta potential. The net effect of lignin depends on the combined influence of hydrophobicity and zeta potential. This study has potential implications in biomass pretreatment for the reduction of lignin inhibition by increasing lignin negative zeta potential and decreasing hydrophobicity.