Cellulose-Hemicellulose-Lignin Interaction in the Secondary Cell Wall of Coconut Endocarp

S Mazumder and N Zhang, BIOMIMETICS, 8, 188 (2023).

DOI: 10.3390/biomimetics8020188

The coconut shell consists of three distinct layers: the skin-like outermost exocarp, the thick fibrous mesocarp, and the hard and tough inner endocarp. In this work, we focused on the endocarp because it features a unique combination of superior properties, including low weight, high strength, high hardness, and high toughness. These properties are usually mutually exclusive in synthesized composites. The microstructures of the secondary cell wall of the endocarp at the nanoscale, in which cellulose microfibrils are surrounded by hemicellulose and lignin, were generated. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations with PCFF force field were conducted to investigate the deformation and failure mechanisms under uniaxial shear and tension. Steered molecular dynamics simulations were carried out to study the interaction between different types of polymer chains. The results demonstrated that cellulose-hemicellulose and cellulose-lignin exhibit the strongest and weakest interactions, respectively. This conclusion was further validated against the DFT calculations. Additionally, through shear simulations of sandwiched polymer models, it was found that cellulose-hemicellulose-cellulose exhibits the highest strength and toughness, while cellulose-lignin-cellulose shows the lowest strength and toughness among all tested cases. This conclusion was further confirmed by uniaxial tension simulations of sandwiched polymer models. It was revealed that hydrogen bonds formed between the polymer chains are responsible for the observed strengthening and toughening behaviors. Additionally, it was interesting to note that failure mode under tension varies with the density of amorphous polymers located between cellulose bundles. The failure mode of multilayer polymer models under tension was also investigated. The findings of this work could potentially provide guidelines for the design of coconut-inspired lightweight cellular materials.

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