BackgroundThe recalcitrance of lignocellulosics to enzymatic saccharification has been related to many factors, including the tissue and molecular heterogeneity of the plant particles. The role of tissue heterogeneity generally assessed from plant sections is not easy to study on a large scale. In the present work, dry fractionation of ground maize shoot was performed to obtain particle fractions enriched in a specific tissue. The degradation profiles of the fractions were compared considering physical changes in addition to chemical conversion.ResultsCoarse, medium and fine fractions were produced using a dry process followed by an electrostatic separation. The physical and chemical characteristics of the fractions varied, suggesting enrichment in tissue from leaves, pith or rind. The fractions were subjected to enzymatic hydrolysis in a torus reactor designed for real-time monitoring of the number and size of the particles. Saccharification efficiency was monitored by analyzing the sugar release at different times. The lowest and highest saccharification yields were measured in the coarse and fine fractions, respectively, and these yields paralleled the reduction in the size and number of particles. The behavior of the positively- and negatively-charged particles of medium-size fractions was contrasted. Although the amount of sugar release was similar, the changes in particle size and number differed during enzymatic degradation. The reduction in the number of particles proceeded faster than that of particle size, suggesting that degradable particles were degraded to the point of disappearance with no significant erosion or fragmentation. Considering all fractions, the saccharification yield was positively correlated with the amount of water associated with [5–15 nm] pore size range at 67% moisture content while the reduction in the number of particles was inversely correlated with the amount of lignin.ConclusionReal-time monitoring of sugar release and changes in the number and size of the particles clearly evidenced different degradation patterns for fractions of maize shoot that could be related to tissue heterogeneity in the plant. The biorefinery process could benefit from the addition of a sorting stage to optimise the flow of biomass materials and take better advantage of the heterogeneity of the biomass.