Determining Sugar Content of Plant Biomass

The Science

Assessing biomass recalcitrance in large populations of both natural and transgenic plants is important to identify promising candidates for lignocellulosic biofuel production. To properly test and optimize biofuel production parameters, the starting sugar content must be known to calculate percent sugar yield and conversion efficiencies. The current standard procedure is both labor- and time-intensive, requiring gram quantities of biomass and taking close to 2 weeks for the full analysis. Pyrolysis molecular beam mass spectrometry (py-MBMS) has been used as a high-throughput method for determining lignin content and structure, and researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center are demonstrating its applicability for deter­mining glucose, xylose, arabinose, galactose, and mannose content in biomass. Py-MBMS measure­ments of sugars in the biomass from conifers, hardwoods, and herbaceous species give similar values to those measured using standard high-performance liquid chromato­graphy, indicating that py-MBMS provides an accurate quantification of total sugar content for a range of biomass types. With data collection for py-MBMS taking only 1.5 minutes per sample, py-MBMS is a rapid high-throughput method for quantifying sugar content in biomass. This improved rate of analysis will help in evaluating approaches to overcoming biomass recalcitrance.

BER Program Manager

Shing Kwok

U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Biological Systems Science Division
[email protected]


Sykes, R. W., E. L. Gjersing, C. L. Doeppke, and M. F. Davis. 2015. “High-Throughput Method for Determining the Sugar Content in Biomass with Pyrolysis Molecular Beam Mass Spectrometry,” BioEnergy Research, DOI: 10.1007/s12155-015-9610-5.