Alkaline delignification of wood tissue is the core of the global pulping technology and the most prominent large-scale separation of the main wood components. This work aims at improved understanding of the interplay between the topochemistry of alkaline pulping and the associated morphological changes. Morphology and chemical structure of partially soda-delignified wood chips were studied combining X-ray tomography (XRT), X-ray diffraction analysis and compositional characterization (lignin and carbohydrate content). The XRT studies of wet samples (providing 3D structural information without interfering drying effects), allowed observation of the cell wall separation as an increasing amount of lignin was removed with the increasing pulping time. Comparison between the microstructure of the surface and the central parts of the treated chips showed a more delignified microstructure at the surface, which highlights the dependence of the delignification process on the mass transport (hydroxide ions and lignin fragments) through the wood tissue. The crystallite size of cellulose increased in the crystal planes during the early stage of pulping while there was little effect on the plane.
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