Tag Archives: nanocellulose fibres

Brazil, Canada, and an innovation, science, and technology forum in Vancouver (Canada)

The Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) is presenting, in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Beedie School of Business, an all-morning forum on June 17, 2013. From the SFU Vancouver Events: June 14 – 21, 2013 announcement (Note: Links have been removed),

Monday, June 17 [2013]

Brazil-Canada Business, Innovation, Science, and Technology Forum

Time: 8-11:30am

Place: Segal Graduate Business School, 500 Granville St.

Cost: $35-70, register online

Join us for a morning focused on Business Innovation and Science & Tecnology opportunities in the Brazilian economy. The opening speakers, Ambassador Sergio Florencio, Consul General and Dr. Jeremy Hall will provide an overview of the landscape in Brazil. The panel discussion includes industry leaders who have piloted extensive business in Brazil specifically in the agriculture, mining and infrastructure fields: Marcelo Sarkis, Heenan Blaikie; Ray Castelli, Weatherhaven and Rogerio Tippe, Javelin Partners. If you are interested in conducting business in Brazil and would like to understand more about the dynamics of the Brazilian economy and how businesses operate, please register now.

If the event is about business, innovation, science, and technology, it seems curious the only mentions of science and/or technology in the event description are confined to a few of the panelists’ interests in agriculture, mining, and whatever they mean by infrastructure.

Brazil is one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia,India, China, and South Africa) countries and, from what I understand, this very loose coalition is eager to take a leadership position vis à vis science, technology, and innovation supplanting the dominance of the US, Japan, and the European Union.

In the early 1990s, I wrote a paper about science and technology transfer and noted that Brazil was entering a new period of development after years of the country’s science and technology efforts (scientists) being isolated from the rest of the world in a failed  attempt to create a powerhouse international enterprise.

Some 20 years later, the decision to join the rest of the science and technology world seems to have been successful. Brazil is set to host the 2014 World Cup for soccer (or, as most of the world calls it, football) and the summer Olympics in 2016. (Sports are often correlated with science and technology advances.) I don’t believe any other country has ever attempted to host two such large international sports events within two years of each other. That’s a pretty confident attitude.

There are two areas of science and technology research in Brazil that are of particular interest to me, brain research and the work on cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as, nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).

While the focus was on Miguel Nicolelis and Duke University (US), the recent announcement of brain-to-brain communication via the Internet featured a research facility in Brazil (from my Mar. 4, 2013 posting),

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University, has been making international headlines lately with two brain projects. The first one about implanting a brain chip that allows rats to perceive infrared light was mentioned in my Feb. 15, 2013 posting. The latest project is a brain-to-brain (rats) communication project as per a Feb. 28, 2013 news release on *EurekAlert,

Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart—one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an “organic computer,” which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the rat brain was much more plastic than we had previously thought,” said Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, lead author of the publication and professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “In those experiments, the rat brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, ‘if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body?’”

One of Nicolelis’s other goals is to have someone with quadriplegia kick the opening ball for the Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup (Walk Again Project). From my Mar. 16, 2012 posting,

It is the exoskeleton described on the Walk Again Project home page that Nicolelis is hoping will enable a young Brazilian quadriplegic to deliver the opening kick for the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football) in Brazil.

Moving on to the other area of interest, CNC research , which in Canada is discussed in terms of the forestry industry (I’ve blogged about this extensively, the search term NCC should fetch most if not all of my postings on the topic), is taking a different tack in Brazil where the focus is on pineapple and banana fibres. My Mar. 28, 20111 posting (Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars) focuses on cellulose and plastic,

Brazilian researchers are working on ways to use nanocellulose fibres from various plants to reinforce plastics in the automotive industry. From the March 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Study leader Alcides Leão, Ph.D., said the fibers used to reinforce the new plastics may come from delicate fruits like bananas and pineapples, but they are super strong. Some of these so-called nano-cellulose fibers are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable.

My second and, to date, only other posting (June 16, 2011) about the work in Brazil features a transcript of an interview with CNC researcher, Alcides Leão.

Finally, I have a few factoids which I will tie together, loosely, and try to show how they relate to this forum. First, São Paulo, Brazil hosts the world’s second oldest and one of its most important biennial visual arts events. (BTW, the next one, Bienal de São Paulo,  is in 2014.) Second, the recent Council of Canadian Academies assessment, State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, stated that Canada rates very highly in six areas, one of those areas being the Visual and Performing Arts. Admittedly Canada’s prominence in the visual and performing is fueled largely by efforts in Québec (as per the assessment), still, one would think there might be some value in trying to include that sector in this  forum and encourage the local visual and performing arts technology industry to make connections with the Brazilian industry.

Finally for those of you who have persisted, here’s the link to buy tickets for the June 17, 2012 forum.

ETA June 21, 2013: The protests in Brazil have attracted worldwide attention and according to a June 21,2013 posting by Dillon Rand on Salon.com there are: 5 signs Brazil’s’ not ready to host the World Cup.

NanoCelluComp; a European Commission-funded nanocellulose project

It was a bit of a surprise to find out there’s yet another nanocellulose fibre project but here it is in a Mar. 7, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

The overall aim of the NanoCelluComp project is to develop a technology to utilise the high mechanical performance of cellulose nanofibres, obtained from food processing waste streams, combined with bioderived matrix materials, for the manufacture of 100% bio-derived high performance composite materials that will replace randomly oriented and unidirectional glass and carbon fibre reinforced plastics in a range of applications including transportation, wind turbines, biomedical, sport and consumer goods. More specifically, the project aims to develop a manufacturing process to form a 100% bio-composites with controlled alignment of the native modified cellulose nanofibres and evaluate these process with regard to the physical and mechanical performance of produced materials and suitability for use by industry via existing composite processing technologies. The project will also study the sustainability of the process and materials (nanocellulose bio-composites) in terms of environmental impacts and cost compared to existing materials, namely, carbon fibre reinforced plastics and glass fibre reinforced plastics.

It’s a project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme whose funding runs out in Feb. 2014. Their fourth newsletter (PDF) is available for viewing. The most interesting bit of news in the publication (for me) is the announcement of a fifth meeting. From the 4th newsletter,

The consortium will next meet on the 14th and 15th of March at the facilities of KTH in Stockholm for its fifth meeting. The Project Technical Adviser, Prof Maria Tomoaia-Cotisel will also be in attendance. (p. 1)

The NanoCelluComp consortium is an amalgam of academic, government, and business agencies, from the NanoCelluComp website’s Consortium page,

Institute of Nanotechnology

The Institute of Nanotechnology (IoN) is one of the global leaders in providing nanotechnology information. It supplies industry and governments with intelligence on nanotechnology and its applications and has produced several important milestone publications. …


CelluComp is a composite materials technology company founded in 2004 by two expert materials scientists, Dr David Hepworth and Dr Eric Whale. …

University of Strathclyde

The University of Strathclyde (USTRATH) will be represented by the research group of Dr Simon Shilton. Dr Shilton’s group at Strathclyde has pioneered the use of rheological factors in hollow fibre membrane spinning. …

University of Copenhagen

The University of Copenhagen team (UCPH) comprises of research groups from the Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, the Department of Agriculture and Ecology and the Department of Food science at the Faculty of Life Sciences representing the complete repertoire of expertise and analytical methods required for the project. Prof. Peter Ulvskov will lead the team. …

Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden)

The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) team is represented in the project by the cellulose-based nanomaterials group of the Division of Glycoscience led by Prof. Qi Zhou. The current research program of the group is centred on the construction of self-assembled composite materials with multi-functionalities and well-defined architectures using cellulose nanofibers, native and modified carbohydrate polymers.  …

University of Reading

The University of Reading team (UREAD) is represented by researchers from the department of Chemistry led by Dr Fred Davis. …

SweTree Technologies

SweTree Technologies (STT) is a plant and forest biotechnology company providing products and technologies to improve the productivity and performance properties of plants, wood and fibre for forestry, pulp & paper, packaging, hygiene, textile and other fibre related industries. …

AL.P.A.S. S.r.l.

AL.P.A.S. S.r.l. (ALPAS) is a manufacturer of Epoxy Resin, Polyurethane, PVC and other adhesive systems based in Northern Italy. The company has over 30 years experience in supplying these products to the Automotive, Electric/Electronics, Marble, Building and other industries. …

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) is a materials science and technology research institution. …


Novozymes (NZ) is a world leader in bioinnovation and the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, with a market share of approximately 45%. …


Biovelop (BV) is an innovative Life Science company with production facilites in Kimstad, Sweden. The company specializes in the development and scaling up of cornerstone technologies in the area of extraction of functional ingredients from cereal grains and brans. …

I wish there was a bit more information in the fourth newsletter about what has been accomplished, from  the newsletter,

Work packages 1 and 2 are now completed (with feasibility studies on alternative vegetable waste streams performed, and methods for liberating and stabilizing nanocellulose achieved).

Work package 3 will conclude shortly with a better understanding of how to improve the mechanical properties of the liberated nanocelulose.

Activities in work package 4 are also nearing completion, with novel production processes achieved and resultant fibres now being tested.

Work package 5 activities to integrate all project research results have been slightly delayed, however initial test composites have been made. Following successful testing of these, the process will be scaled up to industrially relevant amounts.

Work package 6 has produced a report describing environment, health and safety (EHS) aspects and initial findings on end- user acceptability criteria for the developed composites. (p. 3)

Perhaps there’ll be something more in their mid-term report, assuming it gets published.

Nanocellulose as scaffolding for nerve cells

Swedish scientists have announced success with growing nerve cells using nanocellulose as the scaffolding. From the March 19, 2012 news item on Naowerk,

Researchers from Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg have shown that nanocellulose stimulates the formation of neural networks. This is the first step toward creating a three-dimensional model of the brain. Such a model could elevate brain research to totally new levels, with regard to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, for example.

“This has been a great challenge,” says Paul Gatenholm, Professor of Biopolymer Technology at Chalmers.?Until recently the cells were dying after a while, since we weren’t able to get them to adhere to the scaffold. But after many experiments we discovered a method to get them to attach to the scaffold by making it more positively charged. Now we have a stable method for cultivating nerve cells on nanocellulose.”

When the nerve cells finally attached to the scaffold they began to develop and generate contacts with one another, so-called synapses. A neural network of hundreds of cells was produced. The researchers can now use electrical impulses and chemical signal substances to generate nerve impulses, that spread through the network in much the same way as they do in the brain. They can also study how nerve cells react with other molecules, such as pharmaceuticals.

I found the original March 19, 2012 press release  and an image on the University of Chalmers website,

Nerve cells growing on a three-dimensional nanocellulose scaffold. One of the applications the research group would like to study is destruction of synapses between nerve cells, which is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Synapses are the connections between nerve cells. In the image, the functioning synapses are yellow and the red spots show where synapses have been destroyed. Illustration: Philip Krantz, Chalmers

This latest research from Gatenholm and his team will be presented at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Diego, March 25, 2012.

The research team from Chalmers University and its partners are working on other applications for nanocellulose including one for artificial ears. From the Chalmers University Jan. 22, 2012 press release,

As the first group in the world, researchers from Chalmers will build up body parts using nanocellulose and the body’s own cells. Funding will be from the European network for nanomedicine, EuroNanoMed.

Professor Paul Gatenholm at Chalmers is leading and co-ordinating this European research programme, which will construct an outer ear using nanocellulose and a mixture of the patient’s own cartilage cells and stem cells.

Previously, Paul Gatenholm and his colleagues succeeded, in close co-operation with Sahlgrenska University Hospital, in developing artificial blood vessels using nanocellulose, where small bacteria “spin” the cellulose.

In the new programme , the researchers will build up a three-dimensional nanocellulose network that is an exact copy of the patient’s healthy outer ear and construct an exact mirror image of the ear. It will have sufficient mechanical stability for it to be used as a bioreactor, which means that the patient’s own cartilage and stem cells can be cultivated directly inside the body or on the patient, in this case on the head. [Presumably the patient has one ear that is healthy and the researchers are attempting to repair or replace an unhealthy ear on the other side of the head.]

As for the Swedish perspective on nanocellulose (from the 2010 press release),

Cellulose-based material is of strategic significance to Sweden and materials science is one of Chalmers eight areas of advance. Biopolymers are highly interesting as they are renewable and could be of major significance in the development of future materials.

Further research into using the forest as a resource for new materials is continuing at Chalmers within the new research programme that is being built up with different research groups at Chalmers and Swerea – IVF. The programme is part of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, which is being run jointly by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and Chalmers under the leadership of Professor Lars Berglund at the Royal Institute of Technology.

The 2012 press release announcing the work on nerve cells had this about nanocellulose,

Nanocellulose is a material that consists of nanosized cellulose fibers. Typical dimensions are widths of 5 to 20 nanometers and lengths of up to 2,000 nanometers. Nanocellulose can be produced by bacteria that spin a close-meshed structure of cellulose fibers. It can also be isolated from wood pulp through processing in a high-pressure homogenizer.

I last wrote about the Swedes and nanocellulose in a Feb. 15, 2012 posting about recovering it (nanocellulose) from wood-based sludge.

As for anyone interested in the Canadian scene, there is an article by David Manly in the Jan.-Feb. 2012 issue of Canadian Biomass Magazine that focuses largely on economic impacts and value-added products as they pertain to nanocellulose manufacturing production in Canada. You can also search this blog as I have covered the nanocellulose story in Canada and elsewhere as extensively as I can.

The Swedes, sludge, and nanocellulose fibres

According to a Swedish research team at Luleå University of Technology, it’s possible to create cellulose nanofibres from sludge. Well, it’s a particular kind of sludge. From the Feb. 16, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

For example, at one single cellulose manufacturer, Domsjö Fabrikerna in Sweden, the producer of special cellulose, which is used to in the manufacturing of viscose fibers, causes one thousand tons of sludge as a residue each year.

A few years ago, cellulose industries in Sweden, disposed some of their waste as sludge into the ocean. It is now prohibited, and the sludge is stored in large tanks on land. This particular cellulose sludge makes it possible, to produce, so far, the most profitable production of cellulose nanofibres from bio-residue products.

The yield of the manufacture of cellulose nanofibres from the sludge is 95%, compared with cellulose nanofiber production from wood chips 48%, lignin residues 48%, carrot residues of 20%, barley 14% and grass 13%. [emphases mine] “The separation of cellulose nanofibres from bioresidues is energy demanding but when we separate the waste from Domsjö, the energy consumption is lower. The special cellulose from Domsjö has very small size and it also has high cellulose content and therefore the fibers do not need to be chemically pre-treated before the production of cellulose nanofibers,” says Professor Kristiina Oksman.

This is interesting news especially in light of the interview with Jean Moreau (president of CelluForce, a company which manufactures nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC] in Québec, Canada) that I heard yesterday where there was some discussion as to what type of wood is needed to produce it.

In an interview with Dr. Richard Berry (now with CelluForce but with FPInnovations at the time), I asked where the NCC comes from (my Aug. 27, 2010 posting),

Q: Does the process use up the entire log or are parts of it left over? What happens to any leftover bits?

A:         We are starting from the bleached chemical pulp which is, to a large extent, cellulose. The left over bits have actually been processed as part of the chemical pulp mill processes. The acid used is recovered and reused and the sugars are converted into other products; in the demonstration plant they will be converted into biogas.

I’m not sure when the ‘spiderphone’  interview took place but it seems to be prior to the manufacturing/demonstration plant’s opening earlier this year (2012). For the curious, here’s a link to the 48 min. interview (roughly 25 mins. Moreau and roughly 25 mins. of questions from callers), http://ccc.spiderphone.com/RealCast/9597937293/Flashcast.html. (Thanks again to David Rougley for dropping by to leave a comment and this link to the interview on an earlier nanocellulose fibre posting [March 28, 2011].)

Getting back to the main event, the Swedish research is part of a larger project called Bio4Energy and you can find out more about that here.

Bravo to the Swedes for making use of sludge!


Nanocrystalline cellulose Israeli style

After deriving nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) from paper mill waste, Shaul Lapidot and his colleagues at the Hebrew University developed composite foams. From the August 2, 2011 article by Cameron Chai on Azonano,

NCC foams developed by Lapidot and his team are light-weight and highly porous. The foams were further strengthened by reinforcing it with furan resin. Furan is a hemicellulose-based resin obtained from waste of raw crops, including the left outs from processing of rice hulls, corn cobs, oat hulls, and sugar cane.

The composite foams can be used in a number of applications including furniture and car interiors. Given that Israel is not noted for its forestry industry, it can’t come as a surprise that the Israelis are partnering with a Swedish company to produce this new product.

From an international perspective, we have the Brazilians working on nanocellulose fibres (my most recent posting about the Brazilian effort was June 16, 2011) with the Israelis (+ Swedes) and the Canadians focused on NCC. (I have posted about the Canadian effort many times. Here are three: Alberta’s latest NCC plans in a July 5, 2011 posting; developments in Quebec in a May 31, 2011 posting; and an interview with NCC researcher, Richard Berry in an Aug. 27, 2010 posting.)

Transcript of nanocellulose fibre podcast interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a podcast and transcript of an interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University College of Agricultural Sciences, São Paulo, Brazil. (I last mentiioned Leão in my March 28, 2011 posting where I profiled his and his colleagues’ work on using nanocellulose fibres in automotive plastics as a greener alternative to the plastics currently used.) You might prefer to listen to the podcast (made available through the ACS’s Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions project)  or you can read the transcript,

Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions
Promoting Public Health: “Green” cars made from pineapples and bananas

Combating disease . . .  promoting public health … providing clean water and safe food . . . developing new sources of energy . . . confronting climate change. Hello, from the American Chemical Society — the ACS. Our more than 163,000 members make up the world’s largest scientific society. This is “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions: New Solutions 2011.” Global Challenges 2011 updates the ACS’ award-winning podcast series. In 2011, we are focusing on the four themes of the International Year of Chemistry: Health, energy, environment and materials. Today’s solution addressed the desirability of developing more “green” cars.

With manufacturers building hybrids that have excellent gas mileage, the next step appears to be new vehicles that are created through the fruits of workers’ labors, literally –– cars made, in part, out of bananas or pineapples. Their study, explaining how they can create stronger, lighter, and more sustainable materials for cars and other products, was presented this spring at the ACS 241st National Meeting & Exposition in Anaheim.Here’s study lead author Alcides Leão, Ph.D., with São Paulo State University College of Agricultural Sciences São Paulo, Brazil.

“The properties of these plastics are incredible. They are light, but very strong — 30 per cent lighter and 3-to-4 times stronger than the materials used today. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy. They also will help us make more sturdy vehicles.”

Besides cutting down on weight and improving gas mileage, nano-cellulose reinforced plastics have mechanical advantages over conventional automotive plastics. These new plastics can reduce damage from heat and spilled gasoline [emphasis mine], for example.

“These new polymers can replace certain plastics used today or can be used to reinforce materials and this is a real advantage because the fruit plastics are biodegradable. Any source of cellulose-related material could be used. In fact, sludge from pulp and paper cellulose plants could be used. This sludge pulp accounts for a huge amount of waste in Brazil and other countries. How could you use fruit to build sturdier cars, some people have asked? The fact is that the nano-cellulose fibers that go into the plastics are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable. We now have a partnership with a Malaysian company to use these fibers to develop a bullet-proof vest.”

The process, though expensive, has a major advantage which offsets the cost, and the approach looks promising for manufacturing other products in the future. Increasing production certainly will reduce the cost.“To prepare the nano-fibers, we inserted the leaves and stems of pineapples or other plants into a device similar to a pressure cooker. We then added certain chemicals to the plants and heated the mixture over several cycles, producing a fine material that resembles talcum powder. The process is costly, but it takes just one pound of nano-cellulose to produce 100 pounds of super-strong, lightweight plastic. So far, we’re focusing on replacing automotive plastics. But in the future, we may be able to replace steel and aluminum automotive parts using these plant-based nanocellulose materials. In addition, the new plastic could be used to build airplanes.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges.Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

I applaud the interest in providing solutions to our global challenges but let’s not forget that some of these challenges were created as a consequence of a failure to anticipate negative outcomes from  previous chemical solutions to challenges.

On a personal note, I’m intrigued to see that these new plastics could reduce damage from heat and spilled gasoline in light of last night’s events in Vancouver where after losing the Stanley Cup, some Canuck fans overturned and burned a few vehicles as well as smashing window storefronts and looting stores. Here’s a bit of a commentary from Elaine Lui (Lainey’s Gossip) on last night’s events and what’s happening today (Note: her language is a bit saltier than mine so I’ve compromised by replacing vowels with asterisks),

There’s nothing like running to your car to make sure it’s not vandalised. The crowd was already pretty angry when we went past. And we were early. We darted across the street to avoid a fight, were fortunate to find the car unharmed, and got out of there quickly, safely home to our dogs. Others, as you’ve probably seen, were not so lucky.

It sucks that the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. But it sucks even more that this is the image you have of Vancouver today. They keep saying that a small group of d*ckh**ds deliberately destroyed the city and that their efforts should not represent who and what we are. But what about all those people just standing there, not leaving, so that they could photo bomb a fight, and post that sh*t on Facebook?

While you shake your head at the idiocy that went down last night, I wonder if you could take a moment to consider that there is profound heartbreak today for the people who love Vancouver to see, to know, that these *ssh*l*s, who are not true fans, have p*ss*d on the face of our awesome town.

The people of our awesome town are already trying to restore it. Thousands of Vancouver residents have already volunteered to assist with clean up efforts. Click here for more information and follow @vancouverclean for updates on how and where you can help.

Lui is a gossip columnist who generally concentrates on movie, television, and fashion industry gossip with an occasional foray into film and literary criticism.

ETA: I should credit Cameron Chai’s June 16, 2011 news item at Azonano for providing me with the information about the ACS podcast.

Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars

Brazilian researchers are working on ways to use nanocellulose fibres from various plants to reinforce plastics in the automotive industry. From the March 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Study leader Alcides Leão, Ph.D., said the fibers used to reinforce the new plastics may come from delicate fruits like bananas and pineapples, but they are super strong. Some of these so-called nano-cellulose fibers are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable.

“The properties of these plastics are incredible,” Leão said, “They are light, but very strong — 30 per cent lighter and 3-to-4 times stronger. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy.”

Besides weight reduction, nano-cellulose reinforced plastics have mechanical advantages over conventional automotive plastics, Leão added. These include greater resistance to damage from heat, spilled gasoline, water, and oxygen. With automobile manufacturers already testing nano-cellulose-reinforced plastics, with promising results, he predicted they would be used within two years. [emphasis mine]

This sounds very similar to the work being done by FPInnovations with wood cellulose in Québec and in BC. I did post an interview with Dr. Richard Berry, Aug. 27, 2010 (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=1922) where he described and discussed what FPInnovations calls  nanocrystalline cellulose. Coincidentally, Mark MacLachlan is giving a talk about nanocrystalline cellulose  at the Café Scientifique meeting in Vancouver tomorrow, March 29, 2011. Check my March 25, 2011 posting for more details.

Here’s a description of cellulose and the process by which the Brazilian researchers are extracting nanocellulose fibres (from the news item),

Cellulose is the main material that makes up the wood in trees and other parts of plants. Its ordinary-size fibers have been used for centuries to make paper, extracted from wood that is ground up and processed. In more recent years, scientists have discovered that intensive processing of wood releases ultra-small, or “nano” cellulose fibers, so tiny that 50,000 could fit inside across the width of a single strand of human hair. Like fibers made from glass, carbon, and other materials, nano-cellulose fibers can be added to raw material used to make plastics, producing reinforced plastics that are stronger and more durable.

Leão said that pineapple leaves and stems, rather than wood, may be the most promising source for nano-cellulose. He is with Sao Paulo State University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Another is curaua, a plant related to pineapple that is cultivated in South America. Other good sources include bananas; coir fibers found in coconut shells; typha, or “cattails;” sisal fibers produced from the agave plant; and fique, another plant related to pineapples.

To prepare the nano-fibers, the scientists insert the leaves and stems of pineapples or other plants into a device similar to a pressure cooker. They then add certain chemicals to the plants and heat the mixture over several cycles, producing a fine material that resembles talcum powder. The process is costly, but it takes just one pound of nano-cellulose to produce 100 pounds of super-strong, lightweight plastic, the scientists said.

Since the Brazilian researchers are claiming that they will be introducing nanocellulose fibres into plastics within two years, I wonder if that has accelerated  the timeframe for applications (coatings, films, and textiles according to Dr. Berry) from FPInnovations and their nanocrystalline cellulose?