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Microwave-assisted catalyst-free hydrolysis of fibrous cellulose for deriving sugars and biochemicals


Microwave (MW) assisted catalyst-free hydrolysis of fibrous cellulose (FC, cellulolysis) at 200°C promoted a cellulose conversion of ca. 37.2% and quantitative production of valuable C5/C6 sugars (e.g., glucose) and the according platform biochemicals (e.g., 5-hydroxymethylfurfural), corresponding to an overall selectivity of 96.5%. Conversely, conventional hydrothermal cellulolysis under similar conditions was not effective, even after 24 h, carbonising the FC. Based on the systematic study of MW-assisted cellulolysis, the specific interaction between water molecules and macroscopic FC under the MW irradiation was proposed, accounting for the interpretation of the experimental observation. The kinetic energy of water molecules under the MW irradiation facilitated the C–C (in the non-hindered surface–CH2OH groups) and C–O–C bond breaking (inside the cellulose cavities) in FC, producing primary cellulolysis products of xylose, glucose and cellobiose.


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The authors thank The UK-China Joint Research and Innovation Partnership Fund (known in the UK as the Newton Fund Ph.D. Placement Grant) by the China Scholarship Council (CSC, file No. 201603780091 for SJ) and the British Council for the financial support to this work. HX acknowledges The University of Manchester President’s Doctoral Scholar Award and CSC (file No. 201606150068) for supporting her Ph.D. research.

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Correspondence to Christopher Hardacre or Xiaolei Fan.

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Jiang, S., Daly, H., Xiang, H. et al. Microwave-assisted catalyst-free hydrolysis of fibrous cellulose for deriving sugars and biochemicals. Front. Chem. Sci. Eng. 13, 718–726 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11705-019-1804-5

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  • microwave
  • fibrous cellulose
  • hydrolysis
  • sugars
  • mechanism