The effect of lignin as an inhibitory biopolymer for the enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass was studied; specially addressing the role of lignin in non-productive enzyme adsorption. Botanical origin and biomass pre-treatment give rise to differences in lignin structure and the effect of these differences on enzyme binding and inhibition were elucidated. Lignin was isolated from steam explosion (SE) pre-treated and non-treated spruce and wheat straw and used for the preparation of ultrathin films for enzyme binding studies. Binding of Trichoderma reesei Cel7A (CBHI) and the corresponding Cel7A-core, lacking the linker and the cellulose-binding domain, to the lignin films was monitored using a quartz crystal microbalance (QCM). SE pre-treatment altered the lignin structure, leading to increased enzyme adsorption. Thus, the positive effect of SE pre-treatment, opening the cell wall matrix to make polysaccharides more accessible, may be compromised by the structural changes of lignin that increase non-productive enzyme adsorption. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.