Cellulose is a polysaccharide. It is insoluble in water and other solvents. It is non-reducing. It can be broken down into its constituent glucose units when treated with concentrated acids at a high temperature, or into cellobiose unity by weak acid hydrolisis. Several thousand beta-D-glucose components are linked in the cellulose molecule by 1,4-bonds. Molecules in the chain are at a 180° angle in relation to each other. As a result, long filaments, or strands, are formed.
The configuration is stabilised by hydrogen bonds within the chain. Hydrogen bonds also form between the molecules, stabilising the parallel structure of the chains. Batches of parallel cellulose chains are called cellulose fibres.
Occurrence and production
Cellulose is found in the fibres and cell walls of plants. Its purest form is found in cotton threads. A tree contains around 50% cellulose.
Humans are not able to digest cellulose, but fibres are important for the appropriate functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Ruminants, such as cattle, can digest cellulose. Cellulose is produced from wood, reed, straw, corn or sunflower stems by a special process.
Cellulose is used in the production of paper, textile, plastics and explosives.