Dissecting Force Interactions in Cellulose Deconstruction Reveals the Required Solvent Versatility for Overcoming Biomass Recalcitrance
Pretreatment for deconstructing the multifaceted interaction network in crystalline cellulose is a limiting step in making fuels from lignocellulosic biomass. Not soluble in water and most organic solvents, cellulose was found to dissolve in certain classes of ionic liquids (ILs). To elucidate the underlying mechanisms, we simulated cellulose deconstruction by peeling off an 11-residue glucan chain from a cellulose microfibril and computed the free-energy profile in water and in 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride (BmimCl) IL. For this deconstruction process, the calculated free-energy cost/reduction in water/BmimCl is ?2 kcal/mol per glucose residue, respectively. To unravel the molecular origin of solvent-induced differences, we devised a coarse graining scheme to dissect force interactions in simulation models by a force-matching method. The results establish that solvent?glucan interactions are dependent on the deconstruction state of cellulose. Water couples to the hydroxyl and side-chain groups of glucose residues more strongly in the peeled-off state but lacks driving forces to interact with sugar rings and linker oxygens. Conversely, BmimCl demonstrates versatility in targeting glucose residues in cellulose. Anions strongly interact with hydroxyl groups, and the coupling of cations to side chains and linker oxygens is stronger in the peeled-off state. Other than enhancing anion?hydroxyl group coupling, coarse-grain analysis of force interactions identifies configuring cations to target side chains and linker oxygens as a useful design strategy for pretreatment ILs. Furthermore, the state dependence of solvent?glucan interactions highlights specific stabilization and/or frustration of the different structure states of cellulose as important design parameters for pretreatment solvents.