Tag Archives: cellulose nanocrystals

Inhibiting viruses with nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) in Finland

Research and interest in cellulose nanomaterials of one kind or another seems to be reaching new heights. That’s my experience since this is my third posting on the topic in one week.

The latest research features NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC] or, as it’s sometimes known, cellulose nanocrystals [CNC]) ,as a ‘viral inhibitor’ and is described in an April 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from Aalto University [Finland] and and the University of Eastern Finland have succeeded in creating a surface on nano-sized cellulose crystals that imitates a biological structure. The surface adsorbs viruses and disables them. The results can prove useful in the development of antiviral ointments and surfaces, for instance.

There are many viral diseases in the world for which no pharmaceutical treatment exists. These include, among others, dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, as well as a type of diarrhea, which is more familiar in Finland and is easily spread by the hands and can be dangerous especially for small children and the elderly.

An April 15, 2014 Aalto University news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Researchers at Aalto University and the University of Eastern Finland have now succeeded in preliminary tests to prevent the spread of one type of virus into cells with the help of a new type of nanocrystalline cellulose. Nano-sized cellulose crystals were manufactured out of cotton fibre or filter paper with the help of sulphuric acid, causing sulphate ions with negative charges to attach to their surfaces. The ions then attached to alphaviruses used in the test and neutralised them. When the researchers replaced the sulphate ions with cellulose derivatives that imitate tyrosine sulphates, the activity of the viruses was further reduced. The experiments succeeded in preventing viral infection in 88-100 percent of the time with no noticeable effect on the viability of the cells by the nanoparticles. The research findings were published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Here’s a diagram illustrating how the new type of NCC works,

Courtesy of Aalto University

Courtesy of Aalto University

The news release includes perspectives from the researchers,

’Certain cellulose derivatives had been seen to have an impact on viruses before. The nano scale increases the proportion of the surface area to that of the number of grams to a very high level, which is an advantage, because viruses specifically attach themselves to surfaces. Making the cellulose crystals biomimetic, which means that they mimic biological structures, was an important step, as we know that in nature viruses often interact specifically with tyrosine structures,’ he [Jukka Seppälä, Professor of Polymer Technology at Aalto University] says.

Both Jukka Seppälä and Ari Hinkkanen, Professor of Gene Transfer Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, emphasise that the research is still in the early stages.

‘Now we know that the attachment of a certain alphavirus can be effectively prevented when we use large amounts of nanocrystalline cellulose.  Next we need to experiment with other alpha viruses and learn to better understand the mechanisms that prevent viral infection. In addition, it is necessary to ascertain if cellulose can also block other viruses and in what conditions, and to investigate whether or not the sulphates have a deleterious effects on an organism,’ Ari Hinkkanen explains.

According to Kristiina Järvinen, Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, there are many routes that can be taken in the commercialisation of the results. The development of an antiviral medicine is the most distant of these; the idea could be sooner applied in disinfectant ointments and coatings, for instance.

‘It would be possible to provide protection against viruses, spread by mosquitoes, by applying ointment containing nanocrystalline cellulose onto the skin. Nanocrystalline cellulose applied on hospital door handles could kill viruses and prevent them from spreading.  However, we first need to ascertain if the compounds will remain effective in a non-liquid form and how they work in animal tests,’ she ponders.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Synthesis of Cellulose Nanocrystals Carrying Tyrosine Sulfate Mimetic Ligands and Inhibition of Alphavirus Infection by Justin O. Zoppe, Ville Ruottinen, Janne Ruotsalainen, Seppo Rönkkö, Leena-Sisko Johansson, Ari Hinkkanen, Kristiina Järvinen, and Jukka Seppälä. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (4), pp 1534–1542 DOI: 10.1021/bm500229d Publication Date (Web): March 14, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for my other recent postings on cellulose nanomaterials, there’s this April 14, 2014 piece titled: Preparing nanocellulose for eventual use in dressings for wounds and this from April 10, 2014 titled: US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials.

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.

Good lignin, bad lignin: Florida researchers use plant waste to create lignin nanotubes while researchers in British Columbia develop trees with less lignin

An April 4, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some nanotube research at the University of Florida that reaches past carbon to a new kind of nanotube,

Researchers with the University of Florida’s [UF] Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences took what some would consider garbage and made a remarkable scientific tool, one that could someday help to correct genetic disorders or treat cancer without chemotherapy’s nasty side effects.

Wilfred Vermerris, an associate professor in UF’s department of microbiology and cell science, and Elena Ten, a postdoctoral research associate, created from plant waste a novel nanotube, one that is much more flexible than rigid carbon nanotubes currently used. The researchers say the lignin nanotubes – about 500 times smaller than a human eyelash – can deliver DNA directly into the nucleus of human cells in tissue culture, where this DNA could then correct genetic conditions. Experiments with DNA injection are currently being done with carbon nanotubes, as well.

“That was a surprising result,” Vermerris said. “If you can do this in actual human beings you could fix defective genes that cause disease symptoms and replace them with functional DNA delivered with these nanotubes.”

An April 3, 2014 University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences news release, which originated the news item, describes the lignin nanotubes (LNTs) and future applications in more detail,

The nanotube is made up of lignin from plant material obtained from a UF biofuel pilot facility in Perry, Fla. Lignin is an integral part of the secondary cell walls of plants and enables water movement from the roots to the leaves, but it is not used to make biofuels and would otherwise be burned to generate heat or electricity at the biofuel plant. The lignin nanotubes can be made from a variety of plant residues, including sorghum, poplar, loblolly pine and sugar cane. [emphasis mine]

The researchers first tested to see if the nanotubes were toxic to human cells and were surprised to find that they were less so than carbon nanotubes. Thus, they could deliver a higher dose of medicine to the human cell tissue.  Then they researched if the nanotubes could deliver plasmid DNA to the same cells and that was successful, too. A plasmid is a small DNA molecule that is physically separate from, and can replicate independently of, chromosomal DNA within a cell.

“It’s not a very smooth road because we had to try different experiments to confirm the results,” Ten said. “But it was very fruitful.”

In cases of genetic disorders, the nanotube would be loaded with a functioning copy of a gene, and injected into the body, where it would target the affected tissue, which then makes the missing protein and corrects the genetic disorder.

Although Vermerris cautioned that treatment in humans is many years away, among the conditions that these gene-carrying nanotubes could correct include cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. But, he added, that patients would have to take the corrective DNA via nanotubes on a continuing basis.

Another application under consideration is to use the lignin nanotubes for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs in cancer patients. The nanotubes would ensure the drugs only get to the tumor without affecting healthy tissues.

Vermerris said they created different types of nanotubes, depending on the experiment. They could also adapt nanotubes to a patient’s specific needs, a process called customization.

“You can think about it as a chest of drawers and, depending on the application, you open one drawer or use materials from a different drawer to get things just right for your specific application,” he said.  “It’s not very difficult to do the customization.”

The next step in the research process is for Vermerris and Ten to begin experiments on mice. They are in the application process for those experiments, which would take several years to complete.  If those are successful, permits would need to be obtained for their medical school colleagues to conduct research on human patients, with Vermerris and Ten providing the nanotubes for that research.

“We are a long way from that point,” Vermerris said. “That’s the optimistic long-term trajectory.”

I hope they have good luck with this work. I have emphasized the plant waste the University of Florida scientists studied due to the inclusion of poplar, which is featured in the University of British Columbia research work also being mentioned in this post.

Getting back to Florida for a moment, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Lignin Nanotubes As Vehicles for Gene Delivery into Human Cells by Elena Ten, Chen Ling, Yuan Wang, Arun Srivastava, Luisa Amelia Dempere, and Wilfred Vermerris. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (1), pp 327–338 DOI: 10.1021/bm401555p Publication Date (Web): December 5, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This is an open access paper.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are trying to limit the amount of lignin in trees (specifically poplars, which are not mentioned in this excerpt but in the next). From an April 3, 2014 UBC news release,

Researchers have genetically engineered trees that will be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel, a breakthrough that will mean using fewer chemicals, less energy and creating fewer environmental pollutants.

“One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin,” says Shawn Mansfield, a professor of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.

Lignin makes up a substantial portion of the cell wall of most plants and is a processing impediment for pulp, paper and biofuel. Currently the lignin must be removed, a process that requires significant chemicals and energy and causes undesirable waste.

Researchers used genetic engineering to modify the lignin to make it easier to break down without adversely affecting the tree’s strength.

“We’re designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible,” says Mansfield.

Researchers had previously tried to tackle this problem by reducing the quantity of lignin in trees by suppressing genes, which often resulted in trees that are stunted in growth or were susceptible to wind, snow, pests and pathogens.

“It is truly a unique achievement to design trees for deconstruction while maintaining their growth potential and strength.”

The study, a collaboration between researchers at the University of British Columbia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, is a collaboration funded by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, was published today in Science.

Here’s more about lignin and how a decrease would free up more material for biofuels in a more environmentally sustainable fashion, from the news release,

The structure of lignin naturally contains ether bonds that are difficult to degrade. Researchers used genetic engineering to introduce ester bonds into the lignin backbone that are easier to break down chemically.

The new technique means that the lignin may be recovered more effectively and used in other applications, such as adhesives, insolation, carbon fibres and paint additives.

Genetic modification

The genetic modification strategy employed in this study could also be used on other plants like grasses to be used as a new kind of fuel to replace petroleum.

Genetic modification can be a contentious issue, but there are ways to ensure that the genes do not spread to the forest. These techniques include growing crops away from native stands so cross-pollination isn’t possible; introducing genes to make both the male and female trees or plants sterile; and harvesting trees before they reach reproductive maturity.

In the future, genetically modified trees could be planted like an agricultural crop, not in our native forests. Poplar is a potential energy crop for the biofuel industry because the tree grows quickly and on marginal farmland. [emphasis mine] Lignin makes up 20 to 25 per cent of the tree.

“We’re a petroleum reliant society,” says Mansfield. “We rely on the same resource for everything from smartphones to gasoline. We need to diversify and take the pressure off of fossil fuels. Trees and plants have enormous potential to contribute carbon to our society.”

As noted earlier, the researchers in Florida mention poplars in their paper (Note: Links have been removed),

Gymnosperms such as loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) contain lignin that is composed almost exclusively of G-residues, whereas lignin from angiosperm dicots, including poplar (Populus spp.) contains a mixture of G- and S-residues. [emphasis mine] Due to the radical-mediated addition of monolignols to the growing lignin polymer, lignin contains a variety of interunit bonds, including aryl–aryl, aryl–alkyl, and alkyl–alkyl bonds.(3) This feature, combined with the association between lignin and cell-wall polysaccharides, which involves both physical and chemical interactions, make the isolation of lignin from plant cell walls challenging. Various isolation methods exist, each relying on breaking certain types of chemical bonds within the lignin, and derivatizations to solubilize the resulting fragments.(5) Several of these methods are used on a large scale in pulp and paper mills and biorefineries, where lignin needs to be removed from woody biomass and crop residues(6) in order to use the cellulose for the production of paper, biofuels, and biobased polymers. The lignin is present in the waste stream and has limited intrinsic economic value.(7)

Since hydroxyl and carboxyl groups in lignin facilitate functionalization, its compatibility with natural and synthetic polymers for different commercial applications have been extensively studied.(8-12) One of the promising directions toward the cost reduction associated with biofuel production is the use of lignin for low-cost carbon fibers.(13) Other recent studies reported development and characterization of lignin nanocomposites for multiple value-added applications. For example, cellulose nanocrystals/lignin nanocomposites were developed for improved optical, antireflective properties(14, 15) and thermal stability of the nanocomposites.(16) [emphasis mine] Model ultrathin bicomponent films prepared from cellulose and lignin derivatives were used to monitor enzyme binding and cellulolytic reactions for sensing platform applications.(17) Enzymes/“synthetic lignin” (dehydrogenation polymer (DHP)) interactions were also investigated to understand how lignin impairs enzymatic hydrolysis during the biomass conversion processes.(18)

The synthesis of lignin nanotubes and nanowires was based on cross-linking a lignin base layer to an alumina membrane, followed by peroxidase-mediated addition of DHP and subsequent dissolution of the membrane in phosphoric acid.(1) Depending upon monomers used for the deposition of DHP, solid nanowires, or hollow nanotubes could be manufactured and easily functionalized due to the presence of many reactive groups. Due to their autofluorescence, lignin nanotubes permit label-free detection under UV radiation.(1) These features make lignin nanotubes suitable candidates for numerous biomedical applications, such as the delivery of therapeutic agents and DNA to specific cells.

The synthesis of LNTs in a sacrificial template membrane is not limited to a single source of lignin or a single lignin isolation procedure. Dimensions of the LNTs and their cytotoxicity to HeLa cells appear to be determined primarily by the lignin isolation procedure, whereas the transfection efficiency is also influenced by the source of the lignin (plant species and genotype). This means that LNTs can be tailored to the application for which they are intended. [emphasis mine] The ability to design LNTs for specific purposes will benefit from a more thorough understanding of the relationship between the structure and the MW of the lignin used to prepare the LNTs, the nanomechanical properties, and the surface characteristics.

We have shown that DNA is physically associated with the LNTs and that the LNTs enter the cytosol, and in some case the nucleus. The LNTs made from NaOH-extracted lignin are of special interest, as they were the shortest in length, substantially reduced HeLa cell viability at levels above approximately 50 mg/mL, and, in the case of pine and poplar, were the most effective in the transfection [penetrating the cell with a bacterial plasmid to leave genetic material in this case] experiments. [emphasis mine]

As I see the issues presented with these two research efforts, there are environmental and energy issues with extracting the lignin while there seem to be some very promising medical applications possible with lignin ‘waste’. These two research efforts aren’t necessarily antithetical but they do raise some very interesting issues as to how we approach our use of resources and future policies.

Fundamental mechanical behaviour of cellulose nanocrystals (aka nanocrystalline cellulose)

Emil Venere at Purdue University offers an excellent explanation of why there’s so much international interest in cellulose nanocrystals (CNC aka, nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC]) in his Dec. 16, 2013 Purdue University (Indiana, US) news release (also on EurekAlert), Note: A link has been removed,

The same tiny cellulose crystals that give trees and plants their high strength, light weight and resilience, have now been shown to have the stiffness of steel.

The nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with wide-ranging applications, such as strengthening construction materials and automotive components.

Calculations using precise models based on the atomic structure of cellulose show the crystals have a stiffness of 206 gigapascals, which is comparable to steel, said Pablo D. Zavattieri, a Purdue University assistant professor of civil engineering.

Here’s an image of the cellulose crystals being examined,

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures that give trees and plants their high strength, light weight and resilience. The nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials that would have a wide range of applications. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures that give trees and plants their high strength, light weight and resilience. The nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials that would have a wide range of applications. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

You’ll notice this image is not enhanced and made pretty as compared to the images in my Dec. 16, 2013 posting about Bristol University’s Art of Science competition. It takes a lot of work to turn the types of images scientists use into ‘art’.

Getting back to the CNC, this news release was probably written by someone who’s not familiar with the other work being done in the field (university press officers typically write about a wide range of topics and cannot hope to have in depth knowledge on each topic) and so it’s being presented as if it is brand new information. In fact, there has been several years work done in five other national jurisdictions that I know of (Sweden, Finland, Canada, Brazil, and Israel) and there are likely more. That’s not including other US states pursuing research in this area, notably Wisconsin.

What I (taking into account  my limitations) find particularly exciting in this work is the detail they’ve been able to determine and the reference to quantum mechanics. Here’s more from the news release (Note: Links have been removed),

“It is very difficult to measure the properties of these crystals experimentally because they are really tiny,” Zavattieri said. “For the first time, we predicted their properties using quantum mechanics.”

The nanocrystals are about 3 nanometers wide by 500 nanometers long – or about 1/1,000th the width of a grain of sand – making them too small to study with light microscopes and difficult to measure with laboratory instruments.

The findings represent a milestone in understanding the fundamental mechanical behavior of the cellulose nanocrystals.

“It is also the first step towards a multiscale modeling approach to understand and predict the behavior of individual crystals, the interaction between them, and their interaction with other materials,” Zavattieri said. “This is important for the design of novel cellulose-based materials as other research groups are considering them for a huge variety of applications, ranging from electronics and medical devices to structural components for the automotive, civil and aerospace industries.”

From an applications perspective (which is what excites so much international interest),

The cellulose nanocrystals represent a potential green alternative to carbon nanotubes for reinforcing materials such as polymers and concrete. Applications for biomaterials made from the cellulose nanocrystals might include biodegradable plastic bags, textiles and wound dressings; flexible batteries made from electrically conductive paper; new drug-delivery technologies; transparent flexible displays for electronic devices; special filters for water purification; new types of sensors; and computer memory.

Cellulose could come from a variety of biological sources including trees, plants, algae, ocean-dwelling organisms called tunicates, and bacteria that create a protective web of cellulose.

“With this in mind, cellulose nanomaterials are inherently renewable, sustainable, biodegradable and carbon-neutral like the sources from which they were extracted,” Moon said. “They have the potential to be processed at industrial-scale quantities and at low cost compared to other materials.”

Biomaterials manufacturing could be a natural extension of the paper and biofuels industries, using technology that is already well-established for cellulose-based materials.

“Some of the byproducts of the paper industry now go to making biofuels, so we could just add another process to use the leftover cellulose to make a composite material,” Moon said. “The cellulose crystals are more difficult to break down into sugars to make liquid fuel. So let’s make a product out of it, building on the existing infrastructure of the pulp and paper industry.”

Their surface can be chemically modified to achieve different surface properties.

“For example, you might want to modify the surface so that it binds strongly with a reinforcing polymer to make a new type of tough composite material, or you might want to change the chemical characteristics so that it behaves differently with its environment,” Moon said.

Zavattieri plans to extend his research to study the properties of alpha-chitin, a material from the shells of organisms including lobsters, crabs, mollusks and insects. Alpha-chitin appears to have similar mechanical properties as cellulose.

“This material is also abundant, renewable and waste of the food industry,” he said.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Anisotropy of the Elastic Properties of Crystalline Cellulose Iβ from First Principles Density Functional Theory with Van der Waals Interactions by Fernando L. Dri, Louis G. Hector Jr., Robert J. Moon, Pablo D. Zavattieri.  Cellulose December 2013, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 2703-2718. 10.1007/s10570-013-0071-8

This paper is behind a paywall although you can preview the first few pages.

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.

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.

Nanocellulose and forest residues at Luleå University of Technology (Sweden)

Swedish scientists have developed a new production technique which scales up the manufacture of cellulose nanfibres and cellulose nanocrystals (CNC, aka nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC]) from waste materials. From the Aug. 30,2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Luleå University of Technology is the first in Sweden with a new technology that scales up the production of nano-cellulose from forest residues. It may eventually give the forest industry profitable new products, e.g. nano-filters that can clean both the gases, industrial water and even drinking water. Better health and cleaner environment, both nationally and internationally, are some possible outcome

“There is large interest in this from industries, especially because our bionanofilters are expected to be of great importance for the purification of water all around the globe,” says Aji Mathew, Associate Professor at Luleå University of Technology, who leads the EU-funded project, NanoSelect.

The Luleå University of Technology Aug. 28, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, briefly describe the process and the magnitude of the increased production,

On Tuesday [Aug. 27, 2013], researchers at Luleå University of Technology demonstrated before representatives from the Industry and from research institutes how they have managed to scale up the process of manufacture of nano-cellulose of two different residues from the pulp industry. One is from Domsjö in Örnsköldsvik in the form of a fiber product that is grinded down to tiny nano fibers in a special machine. Through this process, the researchers have managed to increase the amount of the previous two kilograms per day to 15 kg per day. Another byproduct is nanocrystals that have been successfully scaled up from 50 to 640 grams / day. The process is possible to scale up and therefore highly interesting for the forest industry.

As noted in the news item, this development is an outcome of the EU- (European Union) funded NanoSelect project, from the Project Details webpage,

NanoSelect aims to design, develop and optimize novel bio-based foams/filters/membranes/adsorbent materials with high and specific selectivity using nanocellulose/nanochitin and combinations thereof for decentralized industrial and domestic water treatment. NanoSelect proposes a novel water purification approach combining the physical filtration process and
the adsorption process exploring the capability of the nanocellulose and/or nanochitin (with or without functionalization) to selectively adsorb, store and desorb contaminants from industrial water and drinking water while passing through a highly porous or permeable membrane.

As the news release notes,

Nano Filter for purification of process water and drinking water is not the only possible product made of nano-cellulose since cellulose has much greater potential.

- Large-scale production of nano-cellulose is necessary to meet a growing interest to use bio-based nanoparticles in a variety of products, says Kristiina Oksman professor at Luleå University of Technology.

Nano filters is today developed at Imperial College, London, in close collaboration with the researchers at Luleå University of Technology.

- We have optimized the process to produce nano filters, we can control the pore size and thus the filter porosity. It’s actually just a piece of paper and the beauty of this piece of paper is that it is stable in water, not like toilet paper that dissolves easily in water, but stable, says Professor Alexander Bismarck at Imperial College.

Nice to hear more about CNC developments.

Crystalline cellulose nanofibers and biomass fuel

Perhaps one day the researchers who work with cellulose at the nanoscale will agree to some kind of terminology. Unfortunately, that day does not seem to be scheduled for the near future as per the latest research from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) in the June 19, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

Improved methods for breaking down cellulose nanofibers are central to cost-effective biofuel production and the subject of new research from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC). Scientists are investigating the unique properties of crystalline cellulose nanofibers to develop novel chemical pretreatments and designer enzymes for biofuel production from cellulosic — or non-food — plant derived biomass.

“Cellulose is laid out in plant cell walls as crystalline nanofibers, like steel reinforcements embedded in concrete columns,” says GLBRC’s Shishir Chundawat. “The key to cheaper biofuel production is to unravel these tightly packed nanofibers more efficiently into soluble sugars using fewer enzymes.”

The June 19, 2013 Los Alamos National Laboratory news release, which originated the news item, explains the new technique in more detail,

An article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests—counter-intuitively—that increased binding of enzymes to cellulose polymers doesn’t always lead to faster breakdown into simple sugars. In fact, Chundawat’s research team found that using novel biomass pretreatments to convert cellulose to a unique crystalline structure called cellulose III reduced native enzyme binding while increasing sugar yields by as much as five times.

The researchers had previously demonstrated that altering the crystal structure of native cellulose to cellulose III accelerates enzymatic deconstruction; however, the recent observation that cellulose III increased sugar yields with reduced levels of bound enzyme was unexpected. To explain this finding, Chundawat and a team of LANL researchers led by Gnana Gnanakaran and Anurag Sethi developed a mechanistic kinetic model indicating that the relationship between enzyme affinity for cellulose and catalytic efficiency is more complex than previously thought.

Cellulose III was found to have a less sticky surface that makes it harder for native enzymes to get stuck non-productively on it, unlike untreated cellulose surfaces. The model further predicts that the enhanced enzyme activity, despite reduced binding, is due to the relative ease with which enzymes are able to pull out individual cellulose III chains from the pretreated nanofiber surface and then break them apart into simple sugars.

“These findings are exciting because they may catalyze future development of novel engineered enzymes that are further tailored for conversion of cellulose III rich pretreated biomass to cheaper fuels and other useful compounds that are currently derived from non-renewable fossil fuels,” says Gnanakaran.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Increased enzyme binding to substrate is not necessary for more efficient cellulose hydrolysis by Dahai Gaoa, Shishir P. S. Chundawat, Anurag Sethic, Venkatesh Balana, S. Gnanakaranc, and Bruce E. Dalea. Published online before print June 19, 2013, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213426110
PNAS June 19, 2013

There is open access to the article (I’m not sure if this is permanent or temporary).

As I hinted at the beginning of this piece, there are a number of terms used to describe cellulose at the nanoscale. For example, there’s nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) which is also known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC); this second term now seems to be preferred. My latest writing on nanocellulose, which seems to be a generic term covering all of the versions cellulose at the nanoscale is in a May 21, 2013 posting about some nanotoxicology studies and in a May 7, 2013 posting about a Saskatchewan-based (Canada) biorefinery (Blue Goose Biorefinery) and its production of CNC.

There are many more here on the topic and, if you’re interested, you may want to try CelluForce, FPInnovations, CNC, and/or NCC, as well as, nanocellulose or cellulose, as blog search terms.