Tag Archives: nanocellulose

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.

Preparing nanocellulose for eventual use in* dressings for wounds

Michael Berger writes about a medical application for wood-based nanocellulose in an April 10, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article by featuring some recent research from Norway (Note: Links have been removed),

Cellulose is a biopolymer consisting of long chains of glucose with unique structural properties whose supply is practically inexhaustible. It is found in the cell walls of plants where it serves to provide a supporting framework – a sort of skeleton. Nanocellulose from wood – i.e. wood fibers broken down to the nanoscale – is a promising nanomaterial with potential applications as a substrate for printing electronics, filtration, or biomedicine.

Researchers have now reported on a method to control the surface chemistry of nanocellulose. The paper appeared in the April 8, 2014 online edition of the Journal of Biomaterials Applications (“Pretreatment-dependent surface chemistry of wood nanocellulose for pH-sensitive hydrogels”).

Using a specific chemical pretreatment as example (carboxymethylation and periodate oxidation), a team from the Paper and Fibre Research Institute (PFI) in Norway demonstrated that they could manufacture nanofibrils with a considerable amount of carboxyl groups and aldehyde groups, which could be applied for functionalizing the material.

The Norwegian researchers are working within the auspices of PFI‘s NanoHeal project featured in my Aug. 23, 2012 posting. It’s good to see that progress is being made. From the Berger’s article,

A specific activity that the PFI researchers and collaborators are working with in the NanoHeal project is the production of an ultrapure nanocellulose which is important for biomedical applications. Considering that the nanocellulose hydrogel material can be cross-linked and have a reactive surface chemistry there are various potential applications.

“A concrete application that we are working with in this specific case is as dressing for wound healing, another is scaffolds,” adds senior research scientist and co-author Kristin Syverud.

“Production of an ultrapure nanocellulose quality is an activity that we are intensifying together with our research partners at the Institute of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine in Trondheim,” notes Chinga-Carrasco [Gary Chinga-Carrasco, a senior research scientist at PFI]. “The results look good and we expect to have a concrete protocol for production of ultrapure nanocellulose soon, for an adequate assessment of its biocompatibility.”

“We have various groups working with assessment of the suitability of nanocellulose as a barrier against wound bacteria and also with the assessment of the cytotoxicity and biocompatibility,” he says. “However, as a first step we have intensified our work on the production of nanocellulose that we expect will be adequate for wound dressings, part of these activities are described in this paper.”

I suggest reading Berger’s article in its totality for a more detailed description of the many hurdles researchers still have to overcome. For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Pretreatment-dependent surface chemistry of wood nanocellulose for pH-sensitive hydrogels by Gary Chinga-Carrasco & Kristin Syverud. Published online before print April 8, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0885328214531511 J Biomater Appl April 8, 2014 0885328214531511

This paper is behind a paywall.

I was hoping to find someone from this group in the list of speakers for 2014 TAPPI Nanotechnology conference website here (officially known as 2014 TAPPI [Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry] International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials) being held in Vancouver, Canada (June 23-26, 2014) but had no luck.

* ‘as’ changed to ‘in’ Apr.14.14 10:50 am PDT in headline

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.

Is there a supercapacitor hiding in your tree?

I gather the answer is: Yes, there is a supercapacitor in your tree as researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have found a way to use tree cellulose as a building component for supercapacitors. From an April 7, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Based on a fundamental chemical discovery by scientists at Oregon State University, it appears that trees may soon play a major role in making high-tech energy storage devices.

OSU chemists have found that cellulose — the most abundant organic polymer on Earth and a key component of trees — can be heated in a furnace in the presence of ammonia, and turned into the building blocks for supercapacitors.

An April 7, 2014 OSU news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item portrays great excitement (Note: Links have been removed),

These supercapacitors are extraordinary, high-power energy devices with a wide range of industrial applications, in everything from electronics to automobiles and aviation. But widespread use of them has been held back primarily by cost and the difficulty of producing high-quality carbon electrodes.

The new approach just discovered at Oregon State can produce nitrogen-doped, nanoporous carbon membranes – the electrodes of a supercapacitor – at low cost, quickly, in an environmentally benign process. The only byproduct is methane, which could be used immediately as a fuel or for other purposes.

“The ease, speed and potential of this process is really exciting,” said Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on a study announcing the discovery in Nano Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was funded by OSU.

“For the first time we’ve proven that you can react cellulose with ammonia and create these N-doped nanoporous carbon membranes,” Ji said. “It’s surprising that such a basic reaction was not reported before. Not only are there industrial applications, but this opens a whole new scientific area, studying reducing gas agents for carbon activation.

“We’re going to take cheap wood and turn it into a valuable high-tech product,” he said.

The news release includes some technical information about the carbon membranes and information about the uses to which supercapacitors are put,

These carbon membranes at the nano-scale are extraordinarily thin – a single gram of them can have a surface area of nearly 2,000 square meters. That’s part of what makes them useful in supercapacitors. And the new process used to do this is a single-step reaction that’s fast and inexpensive. It starts with something about as simple as a cellulose filter paper – conceptually similar to the disposable paper filter in a coffee maker.

The exposure to high heat and ammonia converts the cellulose to a nanoporous carbon material needed for supercapacitors, and should enable them to be produced, in mass, more cheaply than before.

A supercapacitor is a type of energy storage device, but it can be recharged much faster than a battery and has a great deal more power. They are mostly used in any type of device where rapid power storage and short, but powerful energy release is needed.

Supercapacitors can be used in computers and consumer electronics, such as the flash in a digital camera. They have applications in heavy industry, and are able to power anything from a crane to a forklift. A supercapacitor can capture energy that might otherwise be wasted, such as in braking operations. And their energy storage abilities may help “smooth out” the power flow from alternative energy systems, such as wind energy.

They can power a defibrillator, open the emergency slides on an aircraft and greatly improve the efficiency of hybrid electric automobiles.

Besides supercapacitors, nanoporous carbon materials also have applications in adsorbing gas pollutants, environmental filters, water treatment and other uses.

“There are many applications of supercapacitors around the world, but right now the field is constrained by cost,” Ji said. “If we use this very fast, simple process to make these devices much less expensive, there could be huge benefits.”

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

Pyrolysis of Cellulose under Ammonia Leads to Nitrogen-Doped Nanoporous Carbon Generated through Methane Formation by Wei Luo, Bao Wang, Christopher G. Heron, Marshall J. Allen, Jeff Morre, Claudia S. Maier, William F. Stickle, and Xiulei Ji. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl500859p Publication Date (Web): March 28, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

The article is behind a paywall.

One final observation, one of the researchers, William F. Stickle is affiliated with HewLett Packard and not Oregon State University as are the others.

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites, a European Union project) waves goodbye

As I noted in my Feb. 6, 2014 posting about NanoCelluComp and its appearance at the JEC 2014 Composites Show and Conferences in Paris (France), 11-13th March, 2014, the project is experiencing its sunset days.

The project’s (European Commission-funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme) final (6th) newsletter (which can be found here) has just been published and there are a few interesting items to be found.

They list each of their ‘work packages’ and then describe the progress,

Work Package 1
Extraction of nanocellulose from carrot.
Work Packages 2 & 3
Stabilization and modification of nanocellulose suspensions.
Work Package 4
Nanocellulose based materials.
Work Package 5
Integrated technology for making new materials.
Work Package 6
Assessment of new technology.

NanoCelluComp Work Programme Activities.
Work packages 1, 2 and 3 are complete; nonetheless, these methods have been further improved as we have learned more about the properties of the extracted nanocellulose and better ways of removing unwanted components of the vegetable waste.

Activities in work package 4 have provided larger-scale production (100’s of g) of fibres that have been incorporated into resins (work package 5). Production and processing aspects were further fine-tuned over the autumn and early winter to achieve the best performance characteristics in the final composites. Different methods have been used to produce composite materials and full mechanical testing of each has been performed. Finally, demonstrator products have been produced for the JEC Europe 2014 show in Paris (March 11-13).

In work package 6, full life-cycle assessment has been performed on the different production technologies and final demonstrator products.

I’m particularly intrigued by Work Package 1 and its reference to carrots, the first time I’ve heard of carrot-derived nanocellulose. I hope to hear more about these carrots some day. In the meantime, there is more information about vegetable waste and nanocellulose at the JEC conference where NanoCelluComp can be found at Exhibition Stand D83 or in my Feb. 6, 2014 posting.

The 6th newsletter also offers a list of recent papers and publications, their own and others related to nanocellulose. Included here is the list of publications from other agencies,

From cellulose to textile fibre and a ready product

Aalto University has developed a new process with global significance for working cellulose into a textile fibre.

The world’s first textile product made from Ioncell cellulose fibre as well as other results yielded by research programs were introduced at a seminar held by the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC Oy on November 20, 2013.


This Self-Cleaning Plate May Mean You’ll Never Have To Do The Dishes

Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm) in collaboration with Innventia, have designed a prototype dinner plate made from nanocellulose and coated with a super-hydrophobic material.


New report – Biocomposites 350,000t production of wood and natural fibre composites in the European Union in 2012

This market report gives the first comprehensive and detailed picture of the use and amount of wood and natural fibre reinforced composites in the European bio-based economy.


It looks like some good work has been done and I applaud the group for reaching out to communicate. I wish the Canadian proponents would adopt the practice.

All the best to the NanoCelluComp team and may the efforts be ‘fruitful’.



Cleaning up oils spills with cellulose nanofibril aerogels

Given the ever-expanding scope of oil and gas production as previously impossible to reach sources are breached and previously unusable contaminated sources are purified for use while major pipelines and mega tankers are being built to transport all this product, it’s good to see that research into cleaning up oil spills is taking place. A Feb. 26, 2014 news item on Azonano features a project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,

Cleaning up oil spills and metal contaminates in a low-impact, sustainable and inexpensive manner remains a challenge for companies and governments globally.

But a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is examining alternative materials that can be modified to absorb oil and chemicals without absorbing water. If further developed, the technology may offer a cheaper and “greener” method to absorb oil and heavy metals from water and other surfaces.

Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, a researcher at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and associate professor of biomedical engineering, graduate student Qifeng Zheng, and Zhiyong Cai, a project leader at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, have recently created and patented the new aerogel technology.

The Feb. 25, 2014 University of Wisconsin–Madison news release, which originated the news item, explains a little bit about aergels and about what makes these cellulose nanofibril-based aerogels special,

Aerogels, which are highly porous materials and the lightest solids in existence, are already used in a variety of applications, ranging from insulation and aerospace materials to thickening agents in paints. The aerogel prepared in Gong’s lab is made of cellulose nanofibrils (sustainable wood-based materials) and an environmentally friendly polymer. Furthermore, these cellulose-based aerogels are made using an environmentally friendly freeze-drying process without the use of organic solvents.

It’s the combination of this “greener” material and its high performance that got Gong’s attention.

“For this material, one unique property is that it has superior absorbing ability for organic solvents — up to nearly 100 times its own weight,” she says. “It also has strong absorbing ability for metal ions.”

Treating the cellulose-based aerogel with specific types of silane after it is made through the freeze-drying process is a key step that gives the aerogel its water-repelling and oil-absorbing properties.

The researchers have produced a video showing their aerogel in operation,

For those who don’t have the time for a video, the news release describes some of the action taking place,

“So if you had an oil spill, for example, the idea is you could throw this aerogel sheet in the water and it would start to absorb the oil very quickly and efficiently,” she says. “Once it’s fully saturated, you can take it out and squeeze out all the oil. Although its absorbing capacity reduces after each use, it can be reused for a couple of cycles.”

In addition, this cellulose-based aerogel exhibits excellent flexibility as demonstrated by compression mechanical testing.

Though much work needs to be done before the aerogel can be mass-produced, Gong says she’s eager to share the technology’s potential benefits beyond the scientific community.

“We are living in a time where pollution is a serious problem — especially for human health and for animals in the ocean,” she says. “We are passionate to develop technology to make a positive societal impact.”

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

Green synthesis of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)–cellulose nanofibril (CNF) hybrid aerogels and their use as superabsorbents by Qifeng Zheng, Zhiyong Cai, and Shaoqin Gong.  J. Mater. Chem. A, 2014,2, 3110-3118 DOI: 10.1039/C3TA14642A First published online 16 Dec 2013

This paper is behind a paywall. I last wrote about oil-absorbing nanosponges in an April 17, 2012 posting. Those sponges were based on carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites) goes to JEC Composites Show and Conference in Paris (France)

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites), a European Commission-funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, which is entering its final stage (2011 – 2014) will make an appearance (Exhibition Stand D83) at the JEC 2014 Composites Show and Conferences in Paris (France), 11-13th March, 2014.

I  profileded NanoCelluComp in a March 7, 2013 posting where I included excerpts from the project’s 4th newsletter. The 5th (August 2013) newsletter is available here. There is also a project flyer (PDF), which provides some additional insight into why the project was developed and what NanoCellulComp was attempting to accomplish,

Food processing of vegetables produces billions of tonnes of fibrous waste. The cellulose fibres contained within this waste have superior structural properties that with ‘green’ chemistry can be put to much better use. Composites containing cellulose extracted from carrot waste have already been incorporated in lightweight products such as fishing rods and steering wheels.

This material – Curran – while exhibiting good structural properties, does not have the strength of glass or carbon fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP and CFRP) and is further disadvantaged due to limited processability.

The NanoCelluComp Process Improving on Curran through:

Liberating microfibrillated cellulose (nanocellulose) from vegetable waste streams utilising an aqueous based process (thus decreasing energy consumption, and avoiding volatile chemicals).
 Improving mechanical properties by the controlled alignment and cross linking of nanocellulose fibrils.
 Combining the resultant fibres with bio-based resins to produce a 100% bio-composite (thus decreasing use of petroleum-based products).
 Ensuring compatibility of the bio-composite with current manufacturing processes (e.g. injection moulding, hand lay-up).
 Investigating the sustainability of the above processes and materials, compared to existing materials, through a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) and identifying promising application fields.

Most of the ‘nanocellulose’ material that I’ve covered has been focused on derivations from forest products however there is one other team (that I know of) led by researcher Alcides Leão of Brazil examining the possible uses of nanocellulose derived from pineapples and bananas. On that note, my June 13, 2011 posting titled: Transcript of nanocellulose fibre podcast interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University and/or my March 28, 2011 posting titled: Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars may be of interest.

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’.

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.