BioEnergy Research

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 685–698 | Cite as

Variation in Cell Wall Composition and Accessibility in Relation to Biofuel Potential of Short Rotation Coppice Willows

  • Michael J. Ray
  • Nicholas J. B. Brereton
  • Ian Shield
  • Angela Karp
  • Richard J. MurphyEmail author


Short rotation coppice (SRC) willow is currently emerging as an important dedicated lignocellulosic energy crop in the UK. However, investigation into the variation between species and genotypes in their suitability for liquid transport biofuel processing has been limited. To address this, four traits relevant to biofuel processing (composition, enzymatic saccharification, response to pretreatment and projected ethanol yields) were studied in 35 genotypes of willow including Europe’s leading SRC willow cultivars. Large, genotype-specific variation was observed for all four traits. Significant positive correlations were identified between the accessibility of glucan to enzymatic saccharification before and after pretreatment as well as glucose release and xylose release via acid hydrolysis during pretreatment. Of particular interest is that the lignin content of the biomass did not correlate with accessibility of glucan to enzymatic saccharification. The genotype-specific variations identified have implications for SRC willow breeding and for potential reductions in both the net energy expenditure and environmental impact of the lignocellulosic biofuel process chain. The large range of projected ethanol yields demonstrate the importance of feedstock selection based on an ideotype encompassing the performance of both field biomass growth and ease of conversion.


Biofuel Composition Enzymatic saccharification Accessibility Willow (SalixCell wall sugars 



We are grateful for financial support for this research from the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC), working within the BSBEC BioMASS ( Programme of the centre. Further funding support from the Rothamsted Bioenergy and Climate Change Institute Strategic Programme Grant and from the Porter Alliance ( was provided for a studentship awarded to N.J.B. Brereton. The authors would also like to thank William MacAlpine, Tim Barraclough and March Castle for their assistance in harvesting and measuring the trees used in this work. Rothamsted Research receives grant aid from the Bio-technology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Ray
    • 1
  • Nicholas J. B. Brereton
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ian Shield
    • 2
  • Angela Karp
    • 2
  • Richard J. Murphy
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Division of Biology, Faculty of Natural SciencesImperial College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Centre for Bioenergy & Climate Change, Plant & Invertebrate Ecology DepartmentRothamsted ResearchHarpendenUK

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