History and Structure of Cellulose

  • Cellulose discovered in 1838 by French chemist Anselme Payen
  • Hyatt Manufacturing Company produced first thermoplastic polymer, celluloid, in 1870
  • Rayon production from cellulose began in the 1890s
  • Cellophane invented in 1912
  • Hermann Staudinger determined the polymer structure of cellulose in 1920
  • Cellulose is odorless, hydrophilic, and insoluble in water and most organic solvents
  • Melts at 467°C
  • Can be broken down into glucose units by treating with concentrated mineral acids
  • Straight chain polymer with no coiling or branching
  • Forms microfibrils with high tensile strength due to hydrogen bonding
  • Cellulose is related to starch and glycogen
  • Cotton fibers contain 90% cellulose
  • Cellulose is more crystalline compared to starch
  • Different types of cellulose (I, II, III, IV) based on hydrogen bond locations
  • Cellulose chain length ranges from 300 to 10,000 glucose units

Uses and Processing of Cellulose

  • Mainly used to produce paperboard and paper
  • Converted into derivative products such as cellophane and rayon
  • Under development as a renewable fuel source for biofuels
  • Obtained from wood pulp and cotton for industrial use
  • Non-digestible constituent of insoluble dietary fiber in human nutrition
  • Cellulose synthesized at the plasma membrane by rosette terminal complexes (RTCs)
  • RTCs contain cellulose synthase enzymes that spin microfibrils into the cell wall
  • Separate sets of CesA genes involved in primary and secondary cell wall biosynthesis
  • Various subfamilies in the CesA superfamily, including cryptic Csl enzymes
  • Cellulose synthesis uses UDP-glu

Breakdown of Cellulose

  • Cellulolysis is the process of breaking down cellulose into smaller polysaccharides called cellodextrins or completely into glucose units
  • Cellulolysis is a hydrolysis reaction and is relatively difficult compared to the breakdown of other polysaccharides
  • The process of cellulolysis can be intensified in a proper solvent, such as an ionic liquid
  • Some mammals, like cows and sheep, have symbiotic anaerobic bacteria in their rumen that produce cellulases to hydrolyze cellulose
  • Horses use fermentation in their hindgut to digest cellulose in their diet
  • Cellulose undergoes thermolysis (pyrolysis) at temperatures above 350°C, decomposing into solid char, vapors, aerosols, and gases
  • Maximum yield of condensable vapors, called bio-oil, is obtained at 500°C
  • Semi-crystalline cellulose polymers react at pyrolysis temperatures in a few seconds, undergoing a solid-to-liquid-to-vapor transition
  • Glycosidic bond cleavage produces short cellulose chains in the melt, which then produce aerosols
  • Molten cellulose decomposition produces volatile compounds including levoglucosan, furans, pyrans, and light oxygenates


  • Hemicelluloses are polysaccharides related to cellulose and comprise about 20% of the biomass of land plants
  • Hemicelluloses are derived from several sugars, including xylose, mannose, galactose, rhamnose, and arabinose
  • Hemicelluloses consist of shorter chains between 500 and 3000 sugar units
  • Unlike cellulose, hemicelluloses are branched
  • Hemicelluloses are important components of the plant cell wall

Derivatives and Commercial Applications of Cellulose

  • Cellulose can be dissolved in various media to produce regenerated celluloses, such as viscose and cellophane
  • Carbon disulfide in the presence of alkali is the most important solubilizing agent for cellulose
  • Regenerated cellulose production has a history dating back to the 19th century
  • The cuprammonium process, using a cuprammonium solution to solubilize cellulose, is still used for artificial silk production
  • Viscose, produced by treating cellulose with alkali and carbon disulfide, is the most widely used method for manufacturing regenerated cellulose products
  • The hydroxyl groups of cellulose can be reacted with various reagents to produce derivatives like cellulose esters and ethers
  • Cellulose acetate and cellulose triacetate are film- and fiber-forming materials
  • Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose can be cross-linked to produce croscarmellose sodium, used as a disintegrant in pharmaceutical formulations
  • Thiol groups can be attached to cellulose ethers to introduce mucoadhesive and permeation enhancing properties
  • Thiolated cellulose derivatives exhibit high binding properties for metal ions
  • Cellulose is obtained from wood pulp and cotton for industrial use
  • Cellulose is the major constituent of paper, paperboard, and card stock
  • Cellulose is used as insulation in transformers, cables, and other electrical equipment
  • Cellulose is the main ingredient in textiles, with cotton and synthetics having the largest market share
  • Cellulose derivatives are used in consumables, such as fillers in drug tablets and emulsifiers in processed foods

Cellulose Mentions


Cellulose Data Sources

Reference URL
Glossary https://www.alternix.com/blogs/glossary-of-terms/cellulose
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose
Wikidata https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q80294
Knowledge Graph https://www.google.com/search?kgmid=/m/01_k4