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Created by: Team Chemistry - Examples.com, Last Updated: May 7, 2024


Cellulose is a natural substance found in all plant cell walls, making it the most abundant organic compound on Earth. It is a complex carbohydrate, or polysaccharide, consisting of thousands of glucose units linked together. This structure gives cellulose its strength and rigidity, which is why it is crucial for maintaining the structure of plants. In everyday life, cellulose is used in making paper, certain fabrics like cotton, and even in the production of some biofuels. Despite being made of glucose, humans cannot digest cellulose due to the absence of the necessary enzyme to break it down, although it is an important dietary fiber in our diet.

What is Cellulose?

Cellulose is a natural substance found in the cell walls of plants, making it one of the most abundant organic compounds on Earth. It’s primarily composed of long chains of glucose molecules linked together, which gives plants their sturdy structure. In our daily lives, cellulose is used in the production of paper, certain types of fabrics like cotton, and even in dietary fiber supplements. This tough, fibrous compound is essential for plant growth and offers various uses in human-made products.

Types of Cellulose

Alpha Cellulose

Alpha cellulose is the highest grade of cellulose, which makes it extremely durable and resistant to acids. This quality makes it ideal for producing paper intended for long-term storage, such as archival papers and special-grade textiles. It’s highly valued in industries where longevity and stability of the material are crucial.

Beta Cellulose

Beta cellulose ranks below alpha in terms of purity. It is more accessible and reactive, which limits its use to less durable products. Common applications include the making of standard papers and some textiles. Its properties make it fit for everyday use where the exceptional durability of alpha cellulose isn’t required.

Gamma Cellulose

Gamma cellulose is the least pure form and is distinguished by its solubility in a wider range of solutions than alpha or beta cellulose. This type of cellulose finds its niche in specific industrial uses where solubility and reactivity can be advantages, such as in certain process chemicals and lower-grade materials. Gamma cellulose’s versatility makes it valuable for specialized applications across various industries.

Cellulose Examples


Cotton, a natural fiber found in clothing, is made of cellulose. This material makes it strong and durable.


Wood consists mainly of cellulose, giving it the strength needed for building and crafting. Trees use cellulose to maintain their structure.


Paper comes from cellulose fibers from wood pulp or other plants. It’s commonly used for writing, printing, and packaging because it’s abundant and adaptable.


Grasses like bamboo and sugarcane have cellulose in their structure, making them rigid. These plants are also useful in construction and other industries.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables such as celery, lettuce, and apples have cellulose in their structure, adding to their crispness.


Rayon, a soft and versatile semi-synthetic fabric, is made from Cellulose extracted from wood pulp. It’s used in clothing and upholstery.

Corn Husks

Corn husks, rich in Cellulose, protect corn kernels and are used in crafts like corn husk dolls. They can also be composted.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Alternate NamesAlpha-Cel, Alpha-Cellulose, (1, 4-beta-D-glucosyl)(N)

Structure of Cellulose


Cellulose has a unique and complex structure that is essential to plant strength and rigidity. It is composed of long chains of glucose molecules linked together by beta-1,4-glycosidic bonds. These chains bundle together to form microfibrils, which are tightly packed and hydrogen-bonded to each other, creating a strong, rigid framework that supports the plant cells. This linear and orderly arrangement allows cellulose to provide high tensile strength, which is why it’s a key material in nature, used in everything from the trees in our forests to the cotton in our clothes. Its structure not only supports plants but also has vast applications in industries due to its strength and natural abundance

Preparation of Cellulose

Cellulose is not prepared artificial. in laboratories because it is a natural polymer produced by plants during the process of photosynthesis. The synthesis of Cellulose in plants involves the conversion of glucose into cellulose. This conversion can be summarized by the chemical equation:

n Glucose → (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ + n H₂O

In this process, multiple glucose molecules (C₆H₁₂O₆) undergo a dehydration reaction, where water molecules (H₂O) are removed, leading to the formation of long chains of Cellulose (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ. These chains are what form the structural components of the plant cell walls, providing rigidity and strength to the plant.

Although humans cannot integrate cellulose, they can extract it from plant material for various uses. The extraction involves treating plant fibers mechanically and chemically to separate cellulose from other plant components like lignin and hemicellulose. This purified cellulose is then used in numerous applications, from paper manufacturing to producing cellulose derivatives like cellulose acetate used in films and textiles.

Physical Properties of Cellulose

AppearanceWhite, fibrous, and odorless
SolubilityInsoluble in water and most organic solvents
DensityApproximately 1.5 g/cm³
Melting PointDoes not melt; it decomposes at 260-270 °C
Tensile StrengthHigh; cellulose fibers can be extremely strong and durable
Thermal StabilityStable up to 260 °C before decomposing

Chemical Properties of Cellulose

Hydrolysis of Cellulose

  • Cellulose undergoes hydrolysis, breaking down into glucose units when treated with specific enzymes like Cellulose or acids. This process is crucial for changing plant material into glucose for biofuel production, such as ethanol.
  • Equation: (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ + nH₂O → nC₆H₁₂O₆

Reactivity with Acids

  • When cellulose is exposed to concentrated acids, it reacts to form hydrocellulose, a modified form that is more absorbent. This modified cellulose is used in producing absorbent materials and manufacturing rayon.
  • Equation: (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ + Acid → Hydrocellulose


  • Cellulose reacts with acetic anhydride and other acid anhydrides to form Cellulose acetate, a versatile plastic used in making films and synthetic fibers. This esterification process is key to producing a variety of commercial products.
  • Equation: (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ + nC₄H₆O₃ → Cellulose Acetate + nH₂O


  • Cellulose can be oxidized by agents like nitrogen dioxide, leading to the formation of oxycellulose. This substance is weaker yet more absorbent and is utilized in medical applications for its absorbency and biocompatibility.
  • Equation: (C₆H₁₀O₅)ₙ + Oxidizing Agent → Oxycellulose

Uses of Cellulose


Paper Production

Cellulose is a key ingredient in making paper, adding strength and flexibility to products like writing paper, cardboard, and specialty packaging.

Textile Manufacturing

Cellulose is turned into fibers used in the textile industry to make natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, and rayon. These materials are popular for clothing because they are comfortable, breathable, and eco-friendly.

Food Industry

Cellulose acts as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier in foods. It also serves as a low-calorie filler in processed foods, helping to reduce calorie content without affecting taste or texture, as it is not digestible by humans.

Pharmaceuticals and Medical Supplies

Cellulose is important in the medical field for making various products, including wound dressings and filters. Oxidized cellulose is especially useful for its high absorbency, suitable for products like absorbent pads and surgical cotton.


Is Cellulose in Food Good or Bad for You?

Cellulose in food is good; it’s a dietary fiber that aids Digestion and supports gut health.

What is Cellulose Used for in Humans?

Cellulose acts as a fiber and Promoting Digestion health and Preventing Constipation.

Is Cellulose a Sugar or Starch?

Cellulose is neither a sugar nor a starch; it’s a complex carbohydrate known as a Polysaccharide.

Does Cellulose Affect Blood Sugar?

Cellulose does not affect blood sugar levels as it is indigestible and does not convert to glucose.

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