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    Author(s): Roger M. Rowell; Roger Pettersen; Mandla A. Tshabalala
    Date: 2012
    Source: In:Handbook of Wood Chemistry and Wood Composites, 2nd Edition; Chapter 3. pp. 33-72. 2013.
    Publication Series: Book Chapter
    Station: Forest Products Laboratory
    PDF: Download Publication  (759.28 KB)


    Wood is best defined as a three-dimensional biopolymer composite composed of an interconnected network of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin with minor amounts of extractives, and inorganics. The major chemical component of a living tree is water, but on a dry weight basis, all wood cell walls consist mainly of sugar-based polymers (carbohydrates, 65-75%) that are combined with lignin (18-35%). Overall, dry wood has an elemental composition of about 50% carbon, 6% hydrogen, 44% oxygen, and trace amounts of inorganics. Simple chemical analysis can distinguish between hard-woods (angiosperms) and softwoods (gymnosperms) but such techniques cannot be used to identify individual tree species because of the variation within each species and the similarities among species. In general, the coniferous species (softwoods) have a higher cellulose content (40-45%), higher lignin (26-34%), and lower pentosan (7-14%) content as compared to deciduous species (hardwoods) (cellulose 38-49%, lignin 23-30%, and pentosans 19-26%). Table 3.1 shows a summary of the carbohydrates, lignin, and ash content of hardwoods and softwoods in the United States (Pettersen 1984).

    Publication Notes

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    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Rowell, Roger M.; Pettersen, Roger; Tshabalala, Mandla A. 2013. Cell wall chemistry. In: Rowell, Roger. ed. Handbook of wood chemistry and wood composites, Second edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press: 33-72. Chapter 3.

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