Tag Archives: Celluforce

US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials

Lynn Bergeson in an April 7, 2014 posting on the Nanotechnology Now website announced an upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) will hold a May 20-21, 2014, workshop entitled “Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization.” See http://www.nano.gov/ncworkshop The workshop is intended to bring together high level executives from government and multiple industrial sectors to identify pathways for the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials and facilitate communication across industry sectors to determine common challenges.

You can find out more about the Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop here where you can also register and find an agenda, (Note: Links have been removed),

The primary goal of the workshop is to identify the critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. The workshop also supports the announcement last December by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack regarding the formation of a public-private partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities to rapidly advance the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials. In addition, the workshop supports the goals of the NNI Sustainable Nanomanufacturing Signature Initiative/

The workshop is open to the public, after registration, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is an invitation letter dated Feb. 7, 2014, which provides some additional detail,

The primary goals of the workshop are to identify critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. We plan to use the outcome of the workshop to guide research planning in P3Nano and in the Federal Government.

The Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop agenda lists some interesting names. The names I’ve chosen from the list are the speakers from the corporate sectors, all eight of them with two being tentatively scheduled; there are 22 speakers listed in total at this time,

Tom Connelly – DuPont (Tentative)
Travis Earles, Technology Manager, Lockheed Martin
Beth Cormier, Vice President for R&D and Technology, SAPPI Paper
Ed Socci, Director of Beverage Packaging, PepsiCo Advanced Research
Mark Harmon, DuPont (tentative)
Kim Nelson, Vice President for Government Affairs, API
Jean Moreau, CEO, CelluForce
Yoram Shkedi, Melodea

For the most part the speakers will be academics or government bureaucrats and while the title is ‘cellulose nanomaterials’ the speaker list suggests the topic will be heavily weighted to CNC/NCC (cellulose nanocrystals, aka, nanocrystalline cellulose). Of course, I recognize the Canadian, Jean Moreau of CelluForce, a Canadian CNC production facility. I wonder if he will be discussing the stockpile, which was first mentioned here in my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,

I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

I also recognized Melodea which I mentioned here in an Oct. 31, 2013 posting titled: Israeli start-up Melodea and its nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) projects.

A couple of final notes here, NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose) is also known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and I believe the second term is becoming the more popular one to use. As for the final of these two notes, I had an illuminating conversation earlier this year (2014) about CNC and its accessibility. According to my source, there’s been a decision that only large industry players will get access to CNC for commercialization purposes. I can’t verify the veracity of the statement but over the last few years I’ve had a few individual entrepreneurs contact me with hopes that i could help them access the materials. All of them of them had tried the sources I was to suggest and not one had been successful. As well, I note the speaker list includes someone from PepsiCo, someone from Dupont, and someone from Lockheed Martin, all of which could be described as large industry players. (I’m not familiar with either API or SAPPI Paper so cannot offer any opinions as to their size or importance.) Melodea’s access is government-mandated due to research grants from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

I’m not sure one can encourage innovation by restricting access to raw materials to large industry players or government-funded projects as one might be suspected from my back channel experience, the conversation as reported to me, and the speaker list for this workshop.

Future biomedical applications for CNC (cellulose nanocrystals, aka NCC [nanocrystalline cellulose]) from Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly)

It’s good to see a project that might result in applications for CNC (aka, NCC). I commented briefly about the CNC situation earlier today in my Nov. 25, 2013 posting about Lomiko Metals (based in Surrey, BC, Canada) and its focus on developing markets for its product (graphite flakes/graphene). By contrast, Canada’s CelluForce plant (in Québec) has stopped production to avoid adding to its stockpile (as per my Oct. 3, 2013 posting), Alberta has launched a pilot CNC plant (my Nov. 19, 2013 posting), Blue Goose Biorefineries in Saskatchewan was ramping up production according to my May 7, 2013 posting and someone, in a blog posting comment, claimed that Pure Liganin in BC produces CNC (which I cannot confirm since the company mentions neither CNC nor NCC).,

Back to happier matters, a research team from Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) has discovered information that could be helpful for scientists working with protein polymers (from the Nov. 22, 2013 news item on Azonano,,

A team of researchers has uncovered critical information that could help scientists understand how protein polymers interact with other self-assembling biopolymers. The research helps explain naturally occurring nano-material within cells and could one day lead to engineered bio-composites for drug delivery, artificial tissue, bio-sensing, or cancer diagnosis.

The Nov. 21, 2013 NYU-Poly press release, which originated the news item, goes on to explain the CNC connection to this work,

Bionanocomposites provide a singular area of research that incorporates biology, chemistry, materials science, engineering, and nanotechnology. Medical researchers believe they hold particular promise because—unlike the materials that build today’s medical implants, for example—they are biodegradable and biocompatible, not subject to rejection by the body’s immune defenses. As biocomposites rarely exist isolated from other substances in nature, scientists do not yet understand how they interact with other materials such as lipids, nucleic acids, or other organic materials and on a molecular level. This study, which explored the ways in which protein polymers interact with another biopolymer, cellulose, provides the key to better understanding how biocomposite materials would interact with the human body for medical applications.

The materials analyzed were composed of bioengineered protein polymers and cellulose nanocrystals and hold promise for medical applications including non-toxic, targeted drug delivery systems. [emphasis mine] Such bionanocomposites could also be used as scaffolding for tissue growth, synthetic biomaterials, or an environmentally friendly replacement for petroleum-derived polymers currently in use.

I wonder if the researchers obtained their CNC from the production plant in Wisconsin (US), assuming it has opened since my July 27, 2012 posting featuring an announcement of future plans. Getting back to this latest work, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bionanocomposites: Differential Effects of Cellulose Nanocrystals on Protein Diblock Copolymers by Jennifer S. Haghpanah, Raymond Tu, Sandra Da Silva, Deng Yan, Silvana Mueller, Christoph Weder, E. Johan Foster, Iulia Sacui, Jeffery W. Gilman, and Jin Kim Montclare. Biomacromolecules, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/bm401304w Publication Date (Web): October 18, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Offhand I can think of only one Canadian laboratory (although I’m certain there are others), which is working on applications for CNC and that’s Mark MacLaclan’s lab at the University of British Columbia (UBC). For example, there is this ‘in press’ paper,

Shopsowitz, K.E.; Kelly, J.A.; Hamad, W.Y.; MacLachlan, M.J. “Biopolymer Templated Glass with a Twist: Controlling the Chirality, Porosity, and Photonic Properties of Silica with Cellulose Nanocrystals” Adv. Funct. Mater. 2013, in press. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201301737

You can find more about MacLachlan’s work here.

Lomiko Metals and Graphene Laboratories announce 3D printing spinoff company

A Nov. 25, 2013 news item on Azonano announces a new 3D printing company, Graphene 3D Labs,

LOMIKO METALS INC. (the “Company”) announced today the formation of Graphene 3D Labs Inc. to focus on the development of high-performance graphene-enhanced materials for 3D Printing. Dr. Daniel Stolyarov of Graphene Laboratories Inc. (“Graphene Labs”) was appointed CEO and Dr. Michael Gouzman, a leading expert in 3D Printing, was appointed VP of Engineering and Technology.

On February 12, 2013 the Company had entered into a Strategic Alliance Agreement (“SAA”) with Graphene Labs. The creation of Graphene 3D Labs, a spin-out of Graphene Labs, is a result of R&D efforts during the duration of the SAA.

It’s been a busy year for Lomiko Metals (based in Surrey, BC, Canada) as per my April 17, 2013 posting about its graphite flake testing and its graphite mine (Quatre Milles) in Québec and my May 30, 2013 posting about its agreement/strategic alliance with the Research Foundation of Stony Brook University (RF) based in New York State. This latest effort according to the Nov. 22, 2013 Lomiko Metals news release, which originated the news item, describes the reasons for creating a spinout company to pursue applications,

3D Printing is a new and promising manufacturing technology that has garnered much interest, growing from uses in prototyping to everyday products. Today, it is a billion dollar industry growing at a brisk pace. New developments in 3D printing will allow products with different components such as printed electronic circuits, sensors or batteries to be manufactured.

High quality graphite is a base material for producing graphene. Lomiko will provide graphite to Graphene 3D Labs as the exclusive supplier to Graphene 3D Labs and invest $ 50,000 in the start-up for 250,000 preferred shares which are entitled to dividends. Lomiko will require a minimum of $ 300,000 financing by May 1, 2014 to participate in the venture and further financings to participate in a series of graphene-related ventures in addition to work on a graphite resource at the Quatre Milles Project. The transaction is arm’s length and subject to the approval of the TSX. [Toronto Stock Exchange]

“Our involvement in Graphene 3D Labs is a concrete first step into the world of Graphene, 3D Printing and Printed Electronics. This is a rapidly developing new market for high quality naturalgraphite.” stated A. Paul Gill, CEO from the Graphene Live! Conference in Santa Clara, California held November 19-22, 2013.

Dr. Elena Polyakova, CEO of Graphene Labs, was a speaker on Graphene Live! and stated, “We anticipate graphene-enabled materials to revolutionize 3D printing. We anticipate strong demand in airspace, automotive, semi-conductor and advanced manufacturing industries.”

Currently Lomiko and Graphene Labs are working toward the integration of graphene-based products into end-user goods as set out in the Strategic Alliance. [emphasis mine] Lomiko’s high quality graphite and the extensive customer database cultivated by the experts at Graphene Labs will prove indispensable to reaching production and commercialization goals.

This business of developing a market for your raw materials is an approach the folks at CelluForce in Quebec and the new CNC (cellulow nanocrytals, aka, nanocystalline cellulose [NCC]) plant in Alberta might consider taking, if they haven’t already. (Note: My Nov. 19, 2013 posting both announces the new CNC in Alberta and makes mention of the CNC stockpile in  Québec.)

You can find out more about Graphene Laboratories here and about Graphene 3D Laboratories here. For anyone interested in the Graphene Live! conference, (Nov. 20-21, 2013), there will be presentations and audio available soon (as of Nov. 25, 2013) according to the website.

Alberta gave its cellulose nanocrystal (or nanocrystalline cellolose) production plant a soft launch in September 2013

It’s been a little over two years since Alberta’s proposed cellulose nanocrystal (CNC), then called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), pilot plant was first announced (my July 5, 2011 posting). I gather that the plant was quietly opened in Sept. 2013. Finding a news release about the event has proved to be a challenge. The Alberta Innovates website does not list it in its Newsroom while the Alberta Innovates Technology Futures website does list a news release (September 12, 2013Alberta’s one-of-a-kind CNC pilot plant commissioned: Cellulose-based ‘wonder material’ now available to researchers, industry partnersf), despite numerous efforts on my part (try it yourself), I’m unable to access it. Happily, I was able to track down some information elsewhere.

First (in the order in which I found the information), there’s an Oct. 2, 2013 news item on the WorkingForest.com website submitted by Pulp and Paper Canada),

Alberta’s cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) pilot plant, which produces up to 100 kilograms of CNC per week, was commissioned in early September at Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures’ (AITF) Mill Woods facility before a crowd of researchers, industry leaders and government representatives.

The $5.5-million pilot plant, created through a collaboration of the governments of Canada and Alberta in partnership with industry under the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA), uses wood and straw pulp from plants such as flax and hemp to create CNC for testing in commercial applications that will lead to production.

“Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures is proud to host and operate Western Canada’s only CNC pilot plant,” said Stephen Lougheed, AITF’s president and CEO. “We’re able to provide researchers with more CNC than ever before, thereby accelerating the development of commercial applications.”

The grand opening of the CNC pilot plant’s is planned for 2014.

Then, there was more information about the plant and the event in Catherine Griwkowsky’s Sept. 12, 2013 article for the Edmonton Sun,

A new cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) pilot plant will take wood and agricultural fires and turn it into a form that can make products stronger, give them sunlight-absorbing properties, add a negative electromagnetic charge and more.

The $5.5-million project in Mill Woods will churn out up to 100 kilograms of the crystals each week.

Technical Lead Frank Tosto said researchers will study various properties of the crystals, and work with an internal team as well as external industry and other researchers to transform knowledge of the properties into ideas for applications. Later, the team may experiment with unconventional sources of cellulose.

The CNCs can be used for drilling fluids, paints, industrial coatings, automotive components, building materials, plastics and packaging.

The process [of refining hemp, etc.] breaks down cellulose into smaller building blocks using a chemical process of acid hydrolysis, that separates crystal formations in cellulose from other structures. The width is between five to 10 nanometres with a length of 150 to 200 nanometers. To scale, cellulose fibre would be the size of a hockey rink and the nano crystal would be like a pen or pencil, he explained.

Ultimately, Tosto hopes they will find commercial applications for the CNCs. The pilot should last five to seven years. He said it’s hard to think outside the box when they don’t know where all the boxes are.

I’d love to know if any of the entrepreneurs who contacted me privately about accessing CNC so they could develop new applications are now able to purchase product from the Alberta plant or from the one in Quebec (CelluForce), which had a stockpile last I heard (my Oct. 3, 2013 posting). It seems odd to be building another plant when the country’s first such plant has stopped production. Meanwhile, there’s some action on the international scene. An Israeli startup company, Melodea has developed its own CNC/NCC extraction process and has received money to develop applications, from my Oct. 31, 2013 posting),

Melodea Ltd. is developing an economic ally viable industrial process for the extraction of NCC from the sludge of the paper industry, a waste stream produced at millions of tons around the world. The core of the novel technology was developed by the lab of Professor Oded Shoseyov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was licensed exclusively to Melodea.

Moreover, the company develops unique technologies to self-assemble the NCC into ecologically friendly foams for industrial applications.

Melodea Ltd. announced today that it has been awarded above 1,000,000 Euro in 3 projects of the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

You’ll note Melodea’s process extracts CNC from the paper industry’s sludge which leads me to this question: will there be any discussion of this extracting CNC from sludge technique at the 2014 TAPPI (Technical Association for the Pulp, Paper, Packaging and Converting Industries) nanotechnology conference being held in Vancouver (Canada), June 23-26, 2014 (mentioned in my Nov. 14, 2013 posting about the conference’s submission deadline, Nov. 22, 2013)?

CelluForce finalist in Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA) 2013 Later Stage Awards

The Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA) is a cluster of cleantech cluster associations. In other words, if you lead a cleantech association whose membership includes cleantech businesses and ventures, you might call your organization a cleantech cluster and that organization could be eligible for membership in the global association (or cluster of clusters), the GCCA.

CelluForce, a Québec-based company, has emerged as one of 30 finalists in the GCCA’s 2013 Later Stage Awards. From the Nov. 11, 2013 CelluForce news release,

CelluForce, the world leader in the commercial development of Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC), also referred to as NanoCrystalline Cellulose (CelluForce NCC™), is pleased to be recognized among the Global Top 30 in the prestigious Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA) 2013 Later Stage Awards and the top three finalists in the lighting and energy efficiency category.

Each company was evaluated based on their merits in technological innovation and business acumen using the Keystone Compact Method. The Global Top 10 winners will be announced at the Corporate Cleantech Venture Day in Lathi, Finland on November 20th, 2013.

“The 2013 Global Top 30 demonstrate investability, strong product differentiation, scalable business models and have secured solid market traction in their various clean technology sectors,” said Dr. Peter Adriaens, Head Judge of the GCCA Later Stage Awards and developer of the Keystone Compact™ and associated scoring method.

“Narrowing down the nominations from 160 to 30 follows a detailed and robust process and analytics. The 2013 Global Top 30 some of the world’s most sought after equity

investable cleantech companies based on value capture potential in their CleanTech industry sectors.” An interview of Dr. Adriaens is available at http://www.globalcleantech.org/awards/criteria-and-eligibility/

“It is an honor to be part of this prestigious list of the world’s top Cleantech companies” said Jean Moreau, CelluForce President and CEO. “This honor is a reflection of the hard work and resilience demonstrated by the CelluForce team and its partners in developing commercial applications for CNC”, added Moreau. CelluForce is a member of Cleantech cluster Écotech Québec, a founding member of the Global Cleantech Cluster Association.

About CelluForce Inc.

CelluForce Inc. is the world leader in the commercial development of Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC), also referred to as NanoCrystalline Cellulose (CelluForce NCC™).

The company is a joint venture of Domtar Inc. and FPInnovations. CelluForce manufactures NCC/CNC in the world’s first demonstration plant of its kind, located in Windsor, Québec, develops new applications for NCC/CNC, markets and sells it. The company’s head office is in Montreal. www.celluforce.com

About the Global Cleantech Cluster Association

The Global Cleantech Cluster Association (GCCA) is a network of 49 cleantech clusters, representing over 10,000 companies. It creates conduits for companies to

harness the tremendous benefits of international cleantech cluster collaboration in an efficient, affordable, and structured network. The GCCA provides a gateway for established and emerging cleantech companies to gain exposure to potential investors, new markets, influential networks, innovative technologies and best practices. GCCA was founded by swisscleantech, the Finnish Cleantech Cluster, and Watershed Capital, and Technica Communications. For more information about the GCCA, please visit www.globalcleantech.org.

I was not able to find either the source of GCCA funds, presumably they derive their income from memberships, or information about the prizes. There is this about the judging crriteria, from the GCCA’s Criteria and Eligibility webpage (Note: Links have been removed)

Judging Criteria
Companies must fit into one of the following categories:

Biofuels/BioEnergy
CleanWeb/Sustainable IT
Energy Storage/Smart Grid
Green Building
Lighting/Energy Efficiency
Smart Cities (products & services)
Solar & Wind Energy
Transportation
Waste Management
Water (Resource recovery, energy, treatment, etc)

Renowned experts of the global Cleantech investment community (VC’s, PE, etc.) and award category experts are forming the judging panel, coordinated by GCCA.

The following are areas that Award nominees will be judged on:

Clarity of the business strategy: does a viable business with significant markets exist?
The BIG Idea: why is it BIG in terms of breakthrough in innovation, concept and commercial potential?
Core team – profile & tenure: is there a relevant mix of requisite expertise and experience?
Funding: what are current and future sources?
ROI and/or exit strategy: is the business plan reasonable?
Sustainability: what is the positive impact on the environment?

Learn more about the The KeyStone Method™ and review the Keystone Score Brief.

Eligibility

To participate in the GCCA Later Stage Award, Cleantech clusters can nominate any later stage Cleantech company that is member of a cleantech cluster associated with GCCA.

Later stage companies are defined as companies with a proven track record (revenue) in their home market and the strategic goal to expand internationally, and/or a scalable technology or service with international growth potential (pre-revenue, but proven in pilot and demonstration projects).

Nominees may be disqualified if the GCCA jury (at their sole discretion) considers the nominee not eligible to participate.

Please send questions or comments about the GCCA Later Stage Award to [email protected]

**All prizes are awarded at the discretion of the judging panel and all judging decisions are final and not subject to appeal.

You can find out more about the Keystone Compact here and Keystone Score here. Good luck to the folks at CelluForce on Nov. 20, 2013 (when they announce the winner in Finland). CelluForce’s two competitors at this stage are: SELC (Ireland) and ThinkEco (US)..

2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference announces some new (for this year) initiatives

An Oct. 29, 2013  announcement highlights some of the speakers you can expect at the 2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013. The conference whose overarching theme is ScienceNext: Incubating Innovation and Ingenuity features (Note: I have bolded this year’s new initiatives),,

CSPC 2013 Welcomes Minister Rickford:
We are thrilled to announce that the Honourable Greg Rickford, [Canada's] Minister of State (Science and Technology, and Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario) will speak at CSPC 2013, more details to follow. Be sure not to miss it, register now!

Are you the next Rick Mercer? Bill Nye?
CSPC presents its first ever humorous speech contest, Whose Science is it Anyway? Thursday, November 21st at 9pm. To enter, send your name, contact info and 2-3 lines about your story to [email protected] Attractive prizes to be won! Deadline: 5pm, Friday, Nov. 15 (Finalists will be notified Monday, Nov. 18)

CSPC is now Accepting Donations:
We are quite pleased to announce that with the generous support from Ryerson University, CSPC can issue charitable tax receipts for donations. If you wish to donate please contact us or visit cspc2013.ca for more details. www.cspc2013.ca

> CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

• 600+ participants, 28 panel sessions, 150+ speakers including:

- Hon. Reza Moridi, MPP,Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation

- John Knubley, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada

- Robert Hardt, President and CEO, Siemens Canada Limited

- Wendy Cukier, Vice President of Research and Innovation, Ryerson University

- Pierre Meulien, President and CEO, Genome Canada

- Paul Young, Vice President Research, University of Toronto

More exciting names are being added to the Program.

Inauguration of the Awards of Excellence in Science Policy – a first in Canada

• 3 pre conference full day workshops/symposiums

- Science Policy Nuts and Bolts
- Science Diplomacy
- Communication of Science

> CONFERENCE HONORARY CO-CHAIRS

• The Honourable Michael H. Wilson, Chairman, Barclays Capital Canada Inc. and Chancellor, University of Toronto

• Mandy Shapansky, President and Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Canada Ltd.

> CSPC 2013 CONFERENCE THEMES

• Private Sector R&D and Innovation: New Realities and New Models

• Emerging Trends: Science & Technology in International Trade and Diplomacy

• Science and Technology Communication

• Graduate Studies and Research Training: Prospects in a Changing Environment

• Emerging Issues in Canadian Science Policy

A couple of comments. I notice that Member of Parliament (NDP) Kennedy Stewart,, the Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, and member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, is included as a feature speaker this year. Last year (2012), he held an impromptu, after official conference presentation hours sessions on science policy. Good to see that he’s been included in the official programme for 2013. Perhaps next year (2014) will see the Liberal critic for Science and Technology. Ted Hsu as a speaker.

Pierre Lapointe is another speaker whose name caught my attention as he is the President and Chief Executive Officer of FPInnovations, one of the partners behind CelluForce (the other partner is Domtar), the Canadian nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC, aka, cellulose nanocrystals, CNC) initiative. In my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,  I noted that CelluForce had stopped producing NCC as they had a stockpile of the product. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’ll be any mention of the stockpile since Lapointe is on a panel organized by Genome Canada and titled: The complexity of driving the bio-economy: Genomics, Canada’s natural resources and private-public collaborations.

Designing nanocellulose (?) products in Finland; update on Canada’s CelluForce

A VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Oct. 2, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) has announced an initiative which combines design with technical expertise in the production of cellulose- (nanocellulose?) based textile and other products derived from wood waste,

The combination of strong design competence and cutting-edge cellulose-based technologies can result in new commercially successful brands. The aim is for fibre from wood-based biomass to replace both cotton production, which burdens the environment, and polyester production, which consumes oil. A research project launched by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology aims to create new business models and ecosystems in Finland through design-driven cellulose products.

The joint research project is called Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose (DWoC). The objective is to develop cellulose-based products suitable for technical textiles and consumer products. The technology could also find use in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. Another objective is to build a new business ecosystem and promote spin-offs.

Researchers seek to combine Finnish design competence with cutting-edge technological developments to utilise the special characteristics of cellulose to create products that feature the best qualities of materials such as cotton and polyester. Product characteristics achieved by using new manufacturing technologies and nanocellulose as a structural fibre element include recyclability and individual production.

The first tests performed by professor Olli Ilkkala’s team at the Aalto University showed that the self-assembly of cellulose fibrils in wood permits the fibrils to be spun into strong yarn. VTT has developed an industrial process that produces yarn from cellulose fibres without the spinning process. VTT has also developed efficient applications of the foam forming method for manufacturing materials that resemble fabric.

“In the future, combining different methods will enable production of individual fibre structures and textile products, even by using 3D printing technology,” says Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.

Usually the price of a textile product is the key criterion even though produced sustainably. New methods help significantly to shorten the manufacturing chain of existing textile products and bring it closer to consumers to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Projects are currently under way where the objective is to replace wet spinning with extrusion technology. The purpose is to develop fabric manufacturing methods where several stages of weaving and knitting are replaced without losing the key characteristics of the textile, such as the way it hangs.

The VTT news release also provides statistics supporting the notion that cellulose textile products derived from wood waste are more sustainable than those derived from cotton,

Finland’s logging residue to replace environmentally detrimental cotton Cotton textiles account for about 40% of the world’s textile markets, and oil-based polyester for practically the remainder. Cellulose-based fibres make up 6% of the market. Although cotton is durable and comfortable to wear, cotton production is highly water-intensive, and artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides are often needed to ensure a good crop. The surface area of cotton-growing regions globally equates to the size of Finland.

Approximately 5 million tons of fibre could be manufactured from Finland’s current logging residue (25 million cubic metres/year). This could replace more than 20% of globally produced cotton, at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 120 million tons, and releasing enough farming land to grow food for 18 million people. Desertification would also decrease by approximately 10 per cent.

I am guessing this initiative is focused on nanocellulose since the news release makes no mention of it but it is highly suggestive that one of the project leads, Olli Ilkkala mentions nanocellulose as part of the research for which he received a major funding award as recently as 2012,. From a Feb. 7, 2012 Aalto University news release announcing the grant for Ikkala’s research,

The European Research Council granted Aalto University’s Academy Professor Olli Ikkala funding in the amount of €2.3 million for research on biomimetic nanomaterials. Ikkala’s group specialises in the self-assembly of macromolecules and how to make use of this process when producing functional materials.

The interests of Ikkala’s group focus on the self-assembled strong and light nanocomposite structures found in nature, such as the nacreous matter underneath seashells and biological fibres resembling silk and nanocellulose. [emphasis mine] Several strong natural materials are built from both strong parallel elements and softening and viscosifying macromolecules. All sizes of structures form to combine opposite properties: strength and viscosity.

The research of the properties of biomimetic nanocomposites is based on finding out the initial materials of self-assembly. Initial material may include, for example, nano platelets, polymers, new forms of carbon, surfactants and nanocellulose.[emphasis mine]

– Cellulose is especially interesting, as it is the most common polymer in the world and it is produced in our renewable forests. In terms of strength, nano-sized cellulose fibres are comparable to metals, which was the very offset of interest in using nanocellulose in the design of strong self-assembled biomimetic materials, Ikkala says. [emphases mine]

Celluforce update

After reading about the Finnish initiative, I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

When the Celluforce Windsor, Québec plant was officially launched in January 2012 the production target was for 1,000 kg (1 metric ton) per day (there’s more in my Jan. 31 2012 posting about the plant’s launch). I’ve never seen anything which confirms they reached their production target, in any event, that seems irrelevant in light of the ‘stockpile’.

I am somewhat puzzled by the Celluforce ‘stockpile’ issue. On the one hand, it seems the planning process didn’t take into account demand for the material and, on the other hand, I’ve had a couple back channel requests from entrepreneurs about gaining access to the material after they were unsuccessful with Celluforce.  Is there not enough demand and/or is Celluforce choosing who or which agencies are going to have access to the material?

ETA Oct. 14, 2013: It took me a while to remember but there was a very interesting comment by Tim Harper (UK-based, emerging technologies consultant [Cientifica]) in Bertrand Marotte’s May 6, 2012 Globe & Mail article (about NCC (from my May 8, 2012 posting offering some commentary about Marotte’s article),

Tim Harper, the CEO of London-based Cientifica, a consultant on advanced technologies, describes the market for NCC as “very much a push, without signs of any pull.”

It would seem the current stockpile confirms Harper’s take on NCC’s market situation. For anyone not familiar with marketing terminology, ‘pull’ means market demand. No one is asking to buy NCC as there are no applications requiring the product, so there is ‘no pull/no market demand’.

Gary Goodyear rouses passions: more on Canada’s National Research Council and its new commitment to business

Gary Goodyear’s, Minister of State (Science and Technology), office in attempting to set the record straight has, inadvertently, roused even more passion in Phil Plait’s (Slate.com blogger) bosom and inspired me to examine more commentary about the situation regarding the NRC and its ‘new’ commitment to business.

Phil Plait in a May 22, 2013 followup to one 0f his recent postings (I have the details about Plait’s and other commentaries in my May 13, 2013 posting about the NRC’s recent declarations) responds to an email from Michele-Jamali Paquette, the director of communication for Goodyear (Note: A link has been removed),

I read the transcripts, and assuming they are accurate, let me be very clear: Yes, the literal word-for-word quotation I used was incorrect, and one point I made was technically and superficially in error. But the overall point—that this is a terrible move by the NRC and the conservative Canadian government, short-changing real science—still stands. And, in my opinion, Goodyear’s office is simply trying to spin what has become a PR problem.

I’ll note that in her email to me, Paquette quoted my own statement:

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”

Paquette took exception to my use of the word “literally,” emphasizing it in her email. (The link, in both her email and my original post, goes to the Toronto Sun story with the garbled quotation.) Apparently MacDougal did not literally say that. But the objection strikes me as political spin since the meaning of what MacDougal said at the press conference is just as I said it was in my original post.

As I pointed out in my first post: Science can and should be done for its own sake. It pays off in the end, but that’s not why we do it. To wit …

Paquette’s choice of what issues (the 2nd issue was Plait’s original description of the NRC as a funding agency) to dispute seem odd and picayune as they don’t have an impact on Plait’s main argument,

Unfortunately, despite these errors, the overall meaning remains the same: The NRC is moving away from basic science to support business better, and the statements by both Goodyear and MacDougal [sic] are cause for concern.

Plait goes on to restate his argument and provide a roundup of commentaries. It’s well worth reading for the roundup alone.  (One picayune comment from me, I wish Plait would notice that the head of Canada’s National Research Council’s name is spelled this way, John McDougall.)

Happily, Nassif Ghoussoub has also chimed in with a May 22, 2013 posting (on his Piece of Mind blog) regarding the online discussion (Note: Links have been removed),

The Canadian twitter world has been split in the last couple of days. … But then, you have the story of the Tories’ problem with science, be it defunding, muzzling, disbelieving, doubting, preventing, delegitimizing etc. The latter must have restarted with the incredible announcement about the National Research Council (NRC), presented as “Canada sells out science” in Slate, and as “Failure doesn’t come cheap” in Maclean’s. What went unnoticed was the fact that the restructuring turned out to be totally orthogonal to the recommendations of the Jenkins report about the NRC. Then came the latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) report, which showed that Canada’s expenditure on research and development has fallen from 16th out of 41 comparable countries in the year Stephen Harper became prime minister, to 23rd in 2011. Paul Wells seems to be racking up hits on his Maclean’s article,  “Stephen Harper and the knowledge economy: perfect strangers.”  But the story of the last 48 hours has been John Dupuis’s chronology of what he calls, “The Canadian war on science” and much more.

Yes, it’s another roundup but it’s complementary (albeit with one or two repetitions) since Plait does not seem all that familiar with the Canadian scene (I find it’s always valuable to have an outside perspective) and Nassif is a longtime insider.

John Dupuis’ May 20, 2013 posting (on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog), mentioned by both Nassif and Plait, provides an extraordinary listing of stories ranging from 2006 through to 2013 whose headlines alone paint a very bleak picture of the practice of science in Canada,

As is occasionally my habit, I have pulled together a chronology of sorts. It is a chronology of all the various cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations that I’ve been able to dig up. Each of them represents a single shot in the Canadian Conservative war on science. It should be noted that not every item in this chronology, if taken in isolation, is necessarily the end of the world. It’s the accumulated evidence that is so damning.

As I’ve noted before, I am no friend of Stephen Harper and his Conservative government and many of their actions have been reprehensible and, at times, seem childishly spiteful but they do occasionally get something right. There was a serious infrastructure problem in Canada. Buildings dedicated to the pursuit of science were sadly aged and no longer appropriate for the use to which they were being put. Harper and his government have poured money into rebuilding infrastructure and for that they should be acknowledged.

As for what the Conservatives are attempting with this shift in direction for the National Research Council (NRC), which has been ongoing for at least two years as I noted in my May 13, 2013 posting, I believe they are attempting to rebalance the Canadian research enterprise.  It’s generally agreed that Canada historically has very poor levels of industrial research and development (R&D) and high levels of industrial R&D are considered, internationally, as key to a successful economy. (Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, UK, discusses how a falling percentage of industrial R&D, taking place over decades,  is affecting the UK economy in a May 10, 2013 commentary on the University of  Sheffield SPERI [Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute] website.)

This NRC redirection when taken in conjunction with the recent StartUp visa programme (my May 20, 2013 posting discusses Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s recent recruitment tour in San Francisco [Silicon Valley]),  is designed to take Canada and Canadians into uncharted territory—the much desired place where we develop a viable industrial R&D sector and an innovative economy in action.

In having reviewed at least some of the commentary, there are a couple of questions left unasked about this international obsession with industrial R&D,

  • is a country’s economic health truly tied to industrial R&D or is this ‘received’ wisdom?
  • if industrial R&D is the key to economic health, what would be the best balance between it and the practice of basic science?

As for the Canadian situation, what might be some of the unintended consequences? It occurs to me that if scientists are rewarded for turning their research into commercially viable products they might be inclined to constrain access to materials. Understandable if the enterprise is purely private but the NRC redirection is aimed at bringing together academics and private enterprise in a scheme that seems a weird amalgam of both.

For example, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are not easily accessed if you’re a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. I’ve had more than one back-channel request about how to purchase the material and it would seem that access is tightly controlled by the academics and publicly funded enterprise, in this case, a private business, who produce the material. (I’m speaking of the FPInnovations and Domtar comingling in CelluForce, a CNC production facility and much more. It would make a fascinating case study on how public monies are used to help finance private enterprises and their R&D efforts; the relationship between nongovernmental agencies (FPInnovations, which I believe was an NRC spinoff), various federal public funding agencies, and Domtar, a private enterprise; and the power dynamics between all the players including the lowly entrepreneur.

Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology/EcoSynthetix industrial partnership and an interlaced relationship

The EcoSynthetix and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology partnership announced today (Mar. 13, 2013) is an example of how tightly interlaced the relationships between academic institutions and their graduates’ start-up companies can be. A Mar. 13, 2013 news item on Nanowerk describes the partnership,

EcoSynthetix Inc. and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo have joined forces through an industrial partnership to collaborate on new applications for EcoSynthetix’ EcoSphere® technology. The five-year agreement will be jointly funded through an EcoSynthetix and NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council) Collaborative Research and Development Grant. The project matches the scientific expertise from the University of Waterloo in macromolecular science with the sustainability benefits of EcoSphere® bio-based nanoparticles which are based on green chemistry. The goal of the project is to broaden the scientific knowledge base of the EcoSphere® technology to support its introduction into new application areas.

The Mar. 13, 2013 EcoSynthetix news release, which originated the news item, mentions the relationship in passing while extolling the virtues of the partnership,

“As a global centre of excellence for nanotechnology research, this project represents a great opportunity for our institute, faculty and students at the University, to collaborate with a local innovator to further our understanding of the technology and its potential applications,” said Dr. Arthur J. Carty, Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (“WIN”) and an independent director of the board of EcoSynthetix. [emphasis mine] “Nanotechnology is a leading-edge, enabling technology that holds the promise of a lasting economic benefit for jobs and investment in the materials, energy and healthcare sectors. EcoSynthetix’s innovative nanotechnology has the potential to impact a wide-array of markets that would benefit from a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based products.”

“This ECO-WIN collaboration involves four professors and eight graduate students at the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and is a great example of how industry and universities can work together to advance an exciting new area of science to benefit the community,” said Dr. Steven Bloembergen, Executive Vice President, Technology of EcoSynthetix. “Our EcoSphere® technology is already commercial and providing sustainable benefits in three separate markets today. Our team’s primary focus at this stage is near-term product development and product enhancements of carbohydrate-based biopolymers. By working with the Institute of Nanotechnology to deepen our understanding of the basic science, we can identify new future applications that could benefit from our sustainable biobased materials.”

The EcoSphere® technology is being commercially utilized as biobased latex products providing alternatives to petroleum-based binders in the coated paper and paperboard market. [emphasis mine] The goal of this project is to generate a greater understanding of the properties of EcoSphere® biolatex® binders by establishing a knowledge base that could enable tailor-made novel particles with the desired properties for a given application. The project team will be chemically modifying the nanoparticles and then characterizing how the properties of the novel particles are affected by these changes.

I don’t understand what “independent director” means in this context. Is the term meant to suggest that it’s a coincidence Carty is WIN’s executive director and a member of the EcoSynthetix board? Or, does it mean that he’s not employed by the company? If any readers care to clarify the matter, please do leave a comment. In any event, the EcoSynthetix timeline suggests the company has a close relationship with the University of Waterloo as it was founded in 1996 by graduates  (from the company’s About Us History Timeline webpage),

EcosynthetixTimeline

As for the product line which birthed this partnership, there’s a disappointing lack of technical detail about Ecosphere biolatex binders. Here’s the best I can find on the company website (from the Ecosphere Biolatex Binders Performance page),

The smaller particle size characteristic of biolatex binders results in increased binder strength and performance. In coated paper, it provides improved aesthetics; a rich, bright finish; enhanced open structure and excellent printability across all grades.

I wonder if some of this new work will be focused on ways to use CNC (cellulose nanocrytals or NCC, nanocrystalline cellulose) in addition to the company’s previously developed “bio-based nanoparticles”  to enhance the product which, as I highlighted earlier, sells to the “coated paper and paperboard market.” From the CelluForce (the CNC/NCC production plant in Quebec) Applications page,

NCC’s properties and many potential forms enable many uses, including:

  • Biocomposites for bone replacement and tooth repair
  • Pharmaceuticals and drug delivery
  • Additives for foods and cosmetics
  • Improved paper and building products
  • Advanced or “intelligent” packaging
  • High-strength spun fibres and textiles
  • Additives for coatings, paints, lacquers and adhesives
  • Reinforced polymers and innovative bioplastics
  • Advanced reinforced composite materials
  • Recyclable interior and structural components for the transportation industry
  • Aerospace and transportation structures
  • Iridescent and protective films
  • Films for optical switching
  • Pigments and inks
  • Electronic paper printers
  • Innovative coatings and new fillers for papermaking

Since I’m already speculating, I will note I’ve had a couple of requests for information on how to access NCC/CNC from entrepreneurs who’ve not been successful at obtaining the material from the few existing production plants such as CelluForce and the one in the US. It seems only academics can get access.

One last comment about this ‘partnership’, I’d dearly love to know what relationships, if any exist, between the proponents and the NSERC committee which approved the funding.

Interestingly, Carty is the chair for the recently convened expert panel for the Council of Canadian Academies’ The State of Canada’s Science Culture assessment, as per my Dec. 19, 2012 post about the announcement of his appointment. This latest development casts a new light on the panel (my Feb. 22, 2013 post notes my reaction to the expert panel’s membership) and the meaning of science culture in Canada.

CelluForce in Brazil at workshop on nanotechnology

The first Brazil-Canada Workshop on Nanotechnology will be taking place in São Paulo, Brasil, Dec. 6-7, 2012 and Dr. Richard Berry of Canada’s CelluForce (developer of nanocrystalline cellulose or cellulose nanocrystals as the product is also known) will be presenting.

Here’s a bit more about the Brazil-Canada meeting from its home page,

The 1st Brazil-Canada Workshop on Nanotechnology Gathers scientists, researchers, government and industry to discuss the possibilities of Brazil-Canada cooperation on Nanotechnology. The main institutions participating on the event are the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) , the National Center for Energy and Materials Research (CNPEM), the Institute for Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). The special guest institution is the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), from U. S.

The Dec. 3, 2012 CelluForce news release provides details about Dr. Berry’s presentation, which is titled Nanomaterials From Trees – Harnessing The Power of Nature’s Basic Elements,

CelluForce, the world leader in the commercial development of NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC), also referred to as Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC), is participating in the first Brazil-Canada workshop on nanotechnology  in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday, December 6, 2012.  Richard Berry, Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer of CelluForce, will provide an overview of the current knowledge of NCC including the state of development, potential applications as well as health and safety practices.

This workshop, organized by Nanotechnology Coordination at the Brazilian Ministry for Science Technology and Innovation and the Energy and Nuclear Research National Institute (IPEN), aims to identify prospective nanotechnology projects where Brazil and Canada can cooperate. Distinguished members from industry and academia will share their knowledge and expectations on the subject.

You can find abstracts for some of the other presenters (Fernando Galembeck, Director of LNNano, Brazil; Michael K.C. Tam, Department of Chemical Engineering and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, University of Waterloo, Canada; and Dr. Jennifer Flexman, advancing research and development, industrial collaboration and commercialization, University of Toronto, Canada) here.

ETA Dec.5.12 1325 hours PST: I think someone tried to send me some additional information about this meeting. Unfortunately, I deleted the message as spam before I realized what I was reading. The spam filter is usually pretty good but this happens every once in a while. If you’re inclined please do e-mail ([email protected]) with the info. & I will add it.