Quantification of Lignin and Its Structural Features in Plant Biomass Using 13C Lignin as Internal Standard for Pyrolysis-GC-SIM-MS

Gijs Van Erven, Ries de Visser, Donny W.H. Merkx, Willem Strolenberg, Peter de Gijsel, Harry Gruppen, Mirjam A. Kabel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the mechanisms underlying plant biomass recalcitrance at the molecular level can only be achieved by accurate analyses of both the content and structural features of the molecules involved. Current quantification of lignin is, however, majorly based on unspecific gravimetric analysis after sulfuric acid hydrolysis. Hence, our research aimed at specific lignin quantification with concurrent characterization of its structural features. Hereto, for the first time, a polymeric 13C lignin was used as internal standard (IS) for lignin quantification via analytical pyrolysis coupled to gas chromatography with mass-spectrometric detection in selected ion monitoring mode (py-GC-SIM-MS). In addition, relative response factors (RRFs) for the various pyrolysis products obtained were determined and applied. First, 12C and 13C lignin were isolated from nonlabeled and uniformly 13C labeled wheat straw, respectively, and characterized by heteronuclear single quantum coherence (HSQC), nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and py-GC/MS. The two lignin isolates were found to have identical structures. Second, 13C-IS based lignin quantification by py-GC-SIM-MS was validated in reconstituted biomass model systems with known contents of the 12C lignin analogue and was shown to be extremely accurate (>99.9%, R2 > 0.999) and precise (RSD < 1.5%). Third, 13C-IS based lignin quantification was applied to four common poaceous biomass sources (wheat straw, barley straw, corn stover, and sugar cane bagasse), and lignin contents were in good agreement with the total gravimetrically determined lignin contents. Our robust method proves to be a promising alternative for the high-throughput quantification of lignin in milled biomass samples directly and simultaneously provides a direct insight into the structural features of lignin. (Figure Presented).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10907-10916
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2017


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