DS0304 -

Cleavage of the beta-1,4 glycosidic bond of cellulose by non-thermal atmospheric plasma: mechanism insights and application for the production alkylglycosides – CELLOPLASM

Submission summary

General context: Cellulose is a natural polymer of beta-D-glucopyranose covalently linked through beta-1,4 linkages. Cellulose is naturally produced in large scale by living organisms and is used since a long time for the production of fibers or paper. Its polysaccharide structure confers to cellulose promising properties for the production of industrially valuable bio-based materials with a high potential of market in the field of surfactants, glues, thickening agent, viscosity modifier, to mention few. Nature has however designed cellulose as a robust polymer making its chemical processing rather complex for such application. Notably, the hydrogen bond network of cellulose, Van der Waals interactions and electronic effects represent important obstacles in the chemical processing of cellulose. CELLOPLASM aims at investigating the production of glucans from cellulose using non-thermal atmospheric plasma. Glucans are poly- or oligosaccharides made of glucosyl units that are connected through different types of glycosidic linkage (alpha/beta 1,4, 1,3, 1,6, 1,2). Although there exist few success stories for breaking down cellulose to a glucose juice (with the aim of producing low value chemicals), few barriers remain for the production of glucans from cellulose such as sugar concentration, separation and purity.

Scientific hurdles: Acid catalysts are not adapted in the production of glucans from cellulose because they enhance side reactions that have similar apparent activation energy than the (de)polymerization reaction (e.g., successive intramolecular dehydration). Generally, biocatalysts are preferred. However, enzymatic routes suffer from a high dilution ratio (and sometimes low productivity) which impact the price of downstream processing and thus that of glucans. In this field, improvement of technical, economic and environmental impact still remains a top priority.

Previous results and opportunities: Recently, pioneer works at IC2MP has revealed that non-thermal atmospheric plasma (NTAP) can produce concentrated feed of processable glucans with high purity directly from cellulose and under dry conditions. NTAP not only induces depolymerization but also repolymerization reactions. Interestingly, these repolymerization reactions occur in a random way yielding soluble and thus processable glucans. To the best of our knowledge, NTAP has never been deployed for the production of processable glucans from cellulose. We do believe that in this field, NTAP can potentially improve profitability through increase of reaction yield/selectivity, decrease of reaction times and the reduction of solvent waste.

Project objectives: Few issues need to be addressed at the moment to (1) finely control the macro- and molecular structure of glucans produced by NTAP and (2) to determine the application domains this technology may support. To this end, the scientific strategy of CELLOPLASM relies on two main sections:
1) A deep investigation of the mechanism at play during the NTAP treatment of cellulose. To this end, the collection of data from three different domains is proposed (1) NTAP experiments, (2) glucans characterization and (3) quantum modelling
2) The application domain, in terms of business capabilities, the NTAP technology may support. The potential of the NTAP technology will be thus considered in the production of (i) glucans that are bio-based materials with a market price higher than 5-10 €/kg and (ii) alkyl glycosides which are biosurfactants with a lower value (1.5-2 €/kg) than glucans.

Consortium: To reach the main deliverables of CELLOPLASM, a collaborative research with partners with different and complementary scientific expertise is proposed: (1) IC2MP (CNRS, Cellulose processing/NTAP/catalysis/modelling), BIA (INRA, polysaccharide characterization) and (3) ICR (Spanish National Research Council, glycoscience).

Project coordination

Francois JEROME (Institut de Chimie des Milieux et Matériaux de Poitiers)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


ICR Institute for Chemical Research
BIA-INRA Unité Biopolymères, Interactions, Assemblages/INRA
IC2MP Institut de Chimie des Milieux et Matériaux de Poitiers

Help of the ANR 333,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: November 2016 - 36 Months

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