Fiber length and pulping characteristics of switchgrass, alfalfa stems, hybrid poplar and willow biomasses

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Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), alfalfa stems (Medicago sativa), second year growth hybrid poplar (Populus) and willow (Salix spp.) were examined to determine fiber characteristics, pulping behavior and paper properties. Alfalfa stems and switchgrass both showed length weighted average fiber length (LWW) of 0.78 mm, a very narrow fiber length distribution and high fines content. Willow and hybrid poplar have lower fines content but a very low average fiber length (0.42 and 0.48 mm LWW). In addition, the four biomass species showed distinctly different chemical compositions. Switchgrass was defibered successfully using Soda and Soda Anthraquinone (AQ) pulping and demonstrated good paper properties. Both fast-growing wood species pulped well using the Kraft process, and showed acceptable tensile strength, but low tear strength. Alfalfa stems reacted very poorly to Soda and Soda AQ pulping but responded well to Kraft and Kraft AQ. Pulps with tensile and tear strength considerably higher than those found for commercial aspen pulps were observed for alfalfa. All four biomass species examined demonstrated low pulp yield. The highest yields were obtained with poplar and switchgrass (around 43%). Considering the short fibers and low yields, all four biomass types will likely only be used in paper manufacturing if they offer considerable economic advantage over traditional pulp wood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-221
Number of pages7
JournalBioresource Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Alfalfa
  • Hybrid poplar
  • Pulping
  • Switchgrass
  • Willow


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