Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula (C
n, a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to
many thousands of β(1→4) linked D-glucose units.
an important structural component of the primary cell wall of green
plants, many forms of algae and the oomycetes. Some species of
bacteria secrete it to form biofilms.
Cellulose is the most
abundant organic polymer on Earth. The cellulose content of cotton
fiber is 90%, that of wood is 40–50%, and that of dried hemp is
Cellulose is mainly used to produce paperboard and paper. Smaller
quantities are converted into a wide variety of derivative products
such as cellophane and rayon. Conversion of cellulose from energy
crops into biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol is under investigation
as an alternative fuel source.
Cellulose for industrial use is mainly
obtained from wood pulp and cotton.
Some animals, particularly ruminants and termites, can digest
cellulose with the help of symbiotic micro-organisms that live in
their guts, such as Trichonympha. In human nutrition, cellulose is a
non-digestible constituent of insoluble dietary fiber, acting as a
hydrophilic bulking agent for feces and potentially aiding in
2 Structure and properties
3.3 Breakdown (cellulolysis)
3.4 Breakdown (thermolysis)
7 See also
9 External links
Cellulose was discovered in 1838 by the French chemist Anselme Payen,
who isolated it from plant matter and determined its chemical
Cellulose was used to produce the first successful
thermoplastic polymer, celluloid, by Hyatt Manufacturing Company in
1870. Production of rayon ("artificial silk") from cellulose began in
the 1890s and cellophane was invented in 1912. Hermann Staudinger
determined the polymer structure of cellulose in 1920. The compound
was first chemically synthesized (without the use of any biologically
derived enzymes) in 1992, by Kobayashi and Shoda.
The arrangement of cellulose and other polysaccharides in a plant cell
Structure and properties
Cellulose has no taste, is odorless, is hydrophilic with the contact
angle of 20–30 degrees, is insoluble in water and most organic
solvents, is chiral and is biodegradable. It was shown to melt at
467 °C in 2016. It can be broken down chemically into its
glucose units by treating it with concentrated mineral acids at high
Cellulose is derived from D-glucose units, which condense through
β(1→4)-glycosidic bonds. This linkage motif contrasts with that for
α(1→4)-glycosidic bonds present in starch and glycogen. Cellulose
is a straight chain polymer: unlike starch, no coiling or branching
occurs, and the molecule adopts an extended and rather stiff rod-like
conformation, aided by the equatorial conformation of the glucose
residues. The multiple hydroxyl groups on the glucose from one chain
form hydrogen bonds with oxygen atoms on the same or on a neighbor
chain, holding the chains firmly together side-by-side and forming
microfibrils with high tensile strength. This confers tensile strength
in cell walls, where cellulose microfibrils are meshed into a
A triple strand of cellulose showing the hydrogen bonds (cyan lines)
between glucose strands
Cotton fibres represent the purest natural form of cellulose,
containing more than 90% of this polysaccharide.
Compared to starch, cellulose is also much more crystalline. Whereas
starch undergoes a crystalline to amorphous transition when heated
beyond 60–70 °C in water (as in cooking), cellulose requires a
temperature of 320 °C and pressure of 25 MPa to become amorphous
Several different crystalline structures of cellulose are known,
corresponding to the location of hydrogen bonds between and within
strands. Natural cellulose is cellulose I, with structures Iα and
Cellulose produced by bacteria and algae is enriched in Iα while
cellulose of higher plants consists mainly of Iβ.
regenerated cellulose fibers is cellulose II. The conversion of
cellulose I to cellulose II is irreversible, suggesting that cellulose
I is metastable and cellulose II is stable. With various chemical
treatments it is possible to produce the structures cellulose III and
Many properties of cellulose depend on its chain length or degree of
polymerization, the number of glucose units that make up one polymer
Cellulose from wood pulp has typical chain lengths between
300 and 1700 units; cotton and other plant fibers as well as bacterial
cellulose have chain lengths ranging from 800 to 10,000 units.
Molecules with very small chain length resulting from the breakdown of
cellulose are known as cellodextrins; in contrast to long-chain
cellulose, cellodextrins are typically soluble in water and organic
Plant-derived cellulose is usually found in a mixture with
hemicellulose, lignin, pectin and other substances, while bacterial
cellulose is quite pure, has a much higher water content and higher
tensile strength due to higher chain lengths.:3384
Cellulose is soluble in Schweizer's reagent, cupriethylenediamine
(CED), cadmiumethylenediamine (Cadoxen), N-methylmorpholine N-oxide,
and lithium chloride / dimethylacetamide. This is used in the
production of regenerated celluloses (such as viscose and cellophane)
from dissolving pulp.
Cellulose is also soluble in many kinds of ionic
Cellulose consists of crystalline and amorphous regions. By treating
it with strong acid, the amorphous regions can be broken up, thereby
producing nanocrystalline cellulose, a novel material with many
desirable properties. Recently, nanocrystalline cellulose was used
as the filler phase in bio-based polymer matrices to produce
nanocomposites with superior thermal and mechanical properties.
Given a cellulose-containing material, the carbohydrate portion that
does not dissolve in a 17.5% solution of sodium hydroxide at
20 °C is α cellulose, which is true cellulose.[clarification
needed] Acidification of the extract precipitates β cellulose. The
portion that dissolves in base but does not precipitate with acid is
γ cellulose.
Cellulose can be assayed using a method described by Updegraff in
1969, where the fiber is dissolved in acetic and nitric acid to remove
lignin, hemicellulose, and xylosans. The resulting cellulose is
allowed to react with anthrone in sulfuric acid. The resulting
coloured compound is assayed spectrophotometrically at a wavelength of
approximately 635 nm.
In addition, cellulose is represented by the difference between acid
detergent fiber (ADF) and acid detergent lignin (ADL).
Luminescent conjugated oligothiophenes can also be used to detect
cellulose using fluorescence microscopy or spectrofluorometric
In vascular plants cellulose is synthesized at the plasma membrane by
rosette terminal complexes (RTCs). The RTCs are hexameric protein
structures, approximately 25 nm in diameter, that contain the
cellulose synthase enzymes that synthesise the individual cellulose
chains. Each RTC floats in the cell's plasma membrane and "spins"
a microfibril into the cell wall.
RTCs contain at least three different cellulose synthases, encoded by
CesA genes, in an unknown stoichiometry. Separate sets of CesA
genes are involved in primary and secondary cell wall biosynthesis.
There are known to be about seven subfamilies in the CesA superfamily.
These cellulose synthases use UDP-glucose to form the β(1→4)-linked
Cellulose synthesis requires chain initiation and elongation, and the
two processes are separate. CesA glucosyltransferase initiates
cellulose polymerization using a steroid primer,
sitosterol-beta-glucoside, and UDP-glucose.
utilizes UDP-D-glucose precursors to elongate the growing cellulose
chain. A cellulase may function to cleave the primer from the mature
Cellulose is also synthesised by animals, particularly in the tests of
ascidians (where the cellulose was historically termed "tunicine")
although it is also a minor component of mammalian connective
Cellulolysis is the process of breaking down cellulose into smaller
polysaccharides called cellodextrins or completely into glucose units;
this is a hydrolysis reaction. Because cellulose molecules bind
strongly to each other, cellulolysis is relatively difficult compared
to the breakdown of other polysaccharides. However, this process
can be significantly intensified in a proper solvent, e.g. in an ionic
Most mammals have limited ability to digest dietary fiber such as
cellulose. Some ruminants like cows and sheep contain certain
symbiotic anaerobic bacteria (like Cellulomonas) in the flora of the
rumen, and these bacteria produce enzymes called cellulases that help
the microorganism to digest cellulose; the breakdown products are then
used by the bacteria for proliferation. The bacterial mass is later
digested by the ruminant in its digestive system (stomach and small
intestine). Horses use cellulose in their diet by fermentation in
their hindgut via symbiotic bacteria which produce cellulase to digest
cellulose. Similarly, some termites contain in their
hindguts certain flagellate protozoa producing such enzymes, whereas
others contain bacteria or may produce cellulase.
The enzymes used to cleave the glycosidic linkage in cellulose are
glycoside hydrolases including endo-acting cellulases and exo-acting
glucosidases. Such enzymes are usually secreted as part of multienzyme
complexes that may include dockerins and carbohydrate-binding
At temperatures above 350 °C, cellulose undergoes thermolysis
(also called ‘pyrolysis’), decomposing into solid char, vapors,
aerosols, and gases such as carbon dioxide. Maximum yield of
vapors which condense to a liquid called bio-oil is obtained at
Semi-crystalline cellulose polymers react at pyrolysis temperatures
(350–600 °C) in a few seconds; this transformation has been
shown to occur via a solid-to-liquid-to-vapor transition, with the
liquid (called intermediate liquid cellulose or molten cellulose)
existing for only a fraction of a second.
Glycosidic bond cleavage
produces short cellulose chains of two-to-seven monomers comprising
the melt. Vapor bubbling of intermediate liquid cellulose produces
aerosols, which consist of short chain anhydro-oligomers derived from
Continuing decomposition of molten cellulose produces volatile
compounds including levoglucosan, furans, pyrans, light oxygenates and
gases via primary reactions. Within thick cellulose samples,
volatile compounds such as levoglucosan undergo ‘secondary
reactions’ to volatile products including pyrans and light
oxygenates such as glycolaldehyde.
Main article: Hemicellulose
Hemicellulose is a polysaccharide related to cellulose that comprises
about 20% of the biomass of most plants. In contrast to cellulose,
hemicellulose is derived from several sugars in addition to glucose,
especially xylose but also including mannose, galactose, rhamnose, and
Hemicellulose consists of shorter chains – between
500 and 3000 sugar units. Furthermore, hemicellulose is branched,
whereas cellulose is unbranched.
The hydroxyl groups (-OH) of cellulose can be partially or fully
reacted with various reagents to afford derivatives with useful
properties like mainly cellulose esters and cellulose ethers (-OR). In
principle, though not always in current industrial practice,
cellulosic polymers are renewable resources.
Ester derivatives include:
Acetic acid and acetic anhydride
H or -(C=O)CH3
Acetic acid and acetic anhydride
H or -(C=O)CH2CH3
Cellulose acetate propionate (CAP)
Acetic acid and propanoic acid
H or -(C=O)CH3 or -(C=O)CH2CH3
Cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB)
Acetic acid and butyric acid
H or -(C=O)CH3 or -(C=O)CH2CH2CH3
Nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate)
Nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent
H or -NO2
Sulfuric acid or another powerful sulfuring agent
H or -SO3H
The cellulose acetate and cellulose triacetate are film- and
fiber-forming materials that find a variety of uses. The
nitrocellulose was initially used as an explosive and was an early
film forming material. With camphor, nitrocellulose gives celluloid.
Ether derivatives include:
Group R = H or
A commercial thermoplastic used in coatings, inks, binders, and
controlled-release drug tablets
Ethyl methyl cellulose
Chloromethane and chloroethane
-CH3 or -CH2CH3
Gelling and thickening agent
Hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC)
Hydroxyethyl methyl cellulose
Chloromethane and ethylene oxide
-CH3 or -CH2CH2OH
Production of cellulose films
Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose
Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC)
Chloromethane and propylene oxide
-CH3 or -CH2CH(OH)CH3
Viscosity modifier, gelling, foaming and binding agent
Ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose
Chloroethane and ethylene oxide
Halogenated carboxylic acids
Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC)
Often used as its sodium salt, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (NaCMC)
The sodium carboxymethyl cellulose can be cross-linked to give the
croscarmellose sodium (E468) for use as a disintegrant in
A strand of cellulose (conformation Iα), showing the hydrogen bonds
(dashed) within and between cellulose molecules.
See also: dissolving pulp and pulp (paper)
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Cellulose for industrial use is mainly obtained from wood pulp and
cotton. The kraft process is used to separate cellulose from
lignin, another major component of plant matter.
Cellulose is the major constituent of paper,
paperboard, and card stock.
Cellulose is the main ingredient of textiles made from cotton,
linen, and other plant fibers. It can be turned into rayon, an
important fiber that has been used for textiles since the beginning of
the 20th century. Both cellophane and rayon are known as "regenerated
cellulose fibers"; they are identical to cellulose in chemical
structure and are usually made from dissolving pulp via viscose. A
more recent and environmentally friendly method to produce a form of
rayon is the
Microcrystalline cellulose (E460i) and powdered cellulose
(E460ii) are used as inactive fillers in drug tablets and a wide
range of soluble cellulose derivatives, E numbers E461 to E469, are
used as emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilizers in processed foods.
Cellulose powder is, for example, used in Parmesan cheese to prevent
caking inside the package.
Cellulose occurs naturally in some foods
and is an additive in manufactured foods, contributing an indigestible
component used for texture and bulk, potentially aiding in
Cellulose is used in the laboratory as a stationary phase for
thin layer chromatography.
Cellulose fibers are also used in liquid
filtration, sometimes in combination with diatomaceous earth or other
filtration media, to create a filter bed of inert material.
Main article: Energy crop
The major combustible component of non-food energy crops is cellulose,
with lignin second. Non-food energy crops produce more usable energy
than edible energy crops (which have a large starch component), but
still compete with food crops for agricultural land and water
resources. Typical non-food energy crops include industrial hemp
(though outlawed in some countries), switchgrass, Miscanthus, Salix
Populus (poplar) species.
Biofuel: TU-103, a strain of
Clostridium bacteria found in zebra
waste, can convert nearly any form of cellulose into butanol
Hydroxyl bonding of cellulose in water produces a
sprayable, moldable material as an alternative to the use of plastics
and resins. The recyclable material can be made water- and
fire-resistant. It provides sufficient strength for use as a building
Cellulose insulation made from recycled paper is
becoming popular as an environmentally preferable material for
building insulation. It can be treated with boric acid as a fire
Cellulose can be converted into cellophane, a thin
transparent film. It is the base material for the celluloid that was
used for photographic and movie films until the mid-1930s. Cellulose
is used to make water-soluble adhesives and binders such as methyl
cellulose and carboxymethyl cellulose which are used in wallpaper
Cellulose is further used to make hydrophilic and highly
Cellulose is the raw material in the manufacture of
nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate) which is used in smokeless
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CDC - NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards - Cellulose
Types of carbohydrates
Dextrin / Dextran
Fructose / Fructan
Galactose / Galactan
Glucose / Glucan
Levan beta 2→6
Units of paper quantity
Surface chemistry of paper
Manufacture and process
Bleaching of wood pulp
Environmental impact of paper
In the United States
List of paper mills
Glued laminated timber
Oriented strand board
Oriented structural straw board
Structural insulated panel
Ramial chipped wood
List of woods
Non-timber forest products