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Title: Chemical factors that control lignin polymerization

Lignin is a complex, branched polymer that reinforces plant tissue. Understanding the factors that govern lignin structure is of central importance to the development of technologies for converting lignocellulosic biomass into fuels because lignin imparts resistance to chemical, enzymatic and mechanical deconstruction. Lignin is formed by enzymatic oxidation of phenolic monomers (monolignols) of three main types, guaiacyl (G), syringyl (S) and p- hydroxyphenyl (H). It is known that increasing the relative abundance of H subunits results in lower molecular-weight lignin polymers, and hence more easily deconstructed biomass, but it is not known why. Here, we report an analysis of frontier molecular orbitals in mono-, di- and trilignols, calculated using density functional theory, which points to a requirement of strong p- electron density on the reacting phenolic oxygen atom of the neutral precursor for enzymatic oxidation to occur. This model is consistent with a proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) mechanism and for the first time explains why H subunits in certain linkages ( - or -5) react poorly and tend to cap the polymer. In general, -5 linkages with either a G or H terminus are predicted to inhibit elongation. More broadly, the model correctly accounts for the reactivity of the phenolicmore » groups in a diverse set of dilignols comprising H and G subunits. Thus, we provide a coherent framework for understanding the propensity toward growth or termination of different terminal subunits in lignin.« less
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  1. ORNL
  2. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Journal of Physical Chemistry B; Journal Volume: 118; Journal Issue: 1
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Sponsoring Org:
SC USDOE - Office of Science (SC)
Country of Publication:
United States
lignin; BESC