15 Mar 2016
  • Research Result

Woody polymer mixtures unmasked

Tree scraps and tree-derived products may soon become a better fossil fuel alternative, thanks to a new method developed to characterize the various components found in wood.

Woody biomass is made of multiple molecular components that have various molecular mass and structures. The molar amount of each component needs to be accurately measured to extract energy out of this material. Yet this has proven difficult to achieve with mixtures of polymers, because of differences in rotational behavior or chemical nature of each component, as well as how the compounds' middle and end portions interact with other components of the mixture.

A team of Kyoto University researchers has overcome this difficulty by developing and then proving the effectiveness of a novel process for accurately characterizing such mixtures in solution, as reported recently online in Scientific Reports.

Earlier approaches for characterizing components in solution used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which leverages the magnetic properties of molecules to reveal their physical and chemical features. However, this approach generally only allows rough estimation, without providing actual quantitative data on their properties.

In contrast, the new Kyoto approach to NMR, called the "tolerant of any factors" (TAF) quantitation method, can clarify the amount of the components in a mixture of polymers in solution regardless of variation in their sizes or levels of bonding to other polymers. This method can even quantify the constituents of mixtures of polymers from plant cell walls, which could be beneficial in biofuel production.

"We tested this new method on a mixture containing curdlan, a long polymer produced by bacteria and used as a gelling agent, and lignin, an important component of wood," says study author Masato Katahira. "We accurately revealed the nature of this mixture, such as the amounts and structures of the components, by correcting for variables that would normally distort the obtained data, such as their loss of magnetization and the binding of parts of these polymers to each other."

The team expects that the method will help to characterize polymer mixtures in an accurate and convenient way, which could be highly beneficial for research and industry.

Kyoto University method accurately characterizes mixture components of woody biomass in solution

Paper Information


Hideyasu Okamura, Hiroshi Nishimura, Takashi Nagata, Takanori Kigawa, Takashi Watanabe & Masato Katahira
"Accurate and molecular-sizetolerant NMR quantitation of diverse components in solution"
Scientific Reports, 17 February 2016