Tag Archives: NanoCrystalline Cellulose

Ceapro (a Canadian biotech company) and its pressurized gas expanded technology with a mention of cellulose nanocrystals

At the mention of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), my interest was piqued. From a Nov. 10, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Ceapro Inc. (TSX VENTURE:CZO) (“Ceapro” or the “Company”), a growth-stage biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of active ingredients for healthcare and cosmetic industries, announced that Bernhard Seifried, Ph.D., Ceapro’s Senior Research Scientist and a co-inventor of its proprietary Pressurized Gas Expanded Technology (PGX) will present this morning [Nov. 10, 2015] at the prestigious 2015 Composites at Lake Louise engineering conference.

A Nov. 10, 2015 Ceapro press release, which originated the news item, describes the technology in a little more detail and briefly mentions cellulose nanocrystals (Note: A link has been removed),

Dr. Seifried will make a podium presentation entitled, “PGX – Technology: A versatile technology for generating advanced biopolymer materials,” which will feature the unique advantages of Ceapro’s enabling technology for processing aqueous solutions or dispersions of high molecular weight biopolymers, such as starch, polysaccharides, gums, pectins or cellulose nanocrystals, into open-porous morphologies, consisting of nano-scale particles and pores.

Gilles Gagnon, M.Sc., MBA, President and CEO of Ceapro, stated, “Our disruptive PGX enabling technology facilitates biopolymer processing at a new level for generating unique highly porous biopolymer morphologies that can be impregnated with bioactives/APIs or functionalized with other biopolymers to generate exfoliated nano-composites and novel advanced material. We believe this technology will provide transformational solutions not only for our internal programs, but importantly, can be applied much more broadly for Companies with whom we intend to partner globally.”

Utilizing its PGX technology, Ceapro successfully produces its bioactive pharmaceutical grade powder formulation of beta glucan, which is an ingredient in a number of personal care cosmeceutical products as well as a therapeutic agent used for wound healing and a lubricative agent integrated into injectable systems used to treat conditions like urinary incontinence. The Company is developing its enabling PGX platform at the commercial scale level. In order to fully exploit the use of this innovative technology, Ceapro has recently decided to further expand its new world-class manufacturing facility by 10,000 square feet.

“The PGX platform generates unique morphologies that are not possible to produce with other conventional drying systems,” Mr. Gagnon continued. “The ultra-light, highly porous polymer structures produced with PGX have a huge potential for use in an abundant number of applications ranging from functional foods, nutraceuticals, drug delivery and cosmeceuticals, to advanced technical applications.”

Ceapro’s novel PGX Technology can be utilized for a wide variety of bio-industrial processing applications including:

  • Dry aqueous solutions or dispersions of polymers derived from agricultural and/or forestry feedstock, such as polysaccharides, gums, biopolymers at mild processing conditions (40⁰C).
  • Purify biopolymers by removing lipids, salts, sugars and other contaminants, impurities and odours during the precipitation and drying process.
  • Micronize the polymer to a matrix consisting of highly porous fibrils or spherical particles having nano-scale features depending on polymer molecular structure.
  • Functionalize the polymer matrix by generating exfoliated nano-composites of various polymers forming fibers and/or spheres simply by mixing various aqueous polymer solutions/dispersions prior to PGX processing.
  • Impregnate the polymer matrix homogeneously with thermo-sensitive bioactives and/or hydrophobic modifiers to tune solubility of the final polymer bioactive matrix all in the same processing equipment at mild conditions (40⁰C).
  • Extract valuable bioactives at mild conditions from fermentation slurries, while drying the residual biomass.

The highly tune-able PGX process can generate exfoliated nano-composites and highly porous morphologies ranging from sub-micron particles (50nm) to micron-sized granules (2mm), as well as micro- and nanofibrils, granules, fine powders and aerogels with porosities of >99% and specific surface areas exceeding 300 m2/gram. The technology is based on a spray drying method, operating at mild temperatures (40°C) and moderate pressures (100-200 bar) utilizing PGX liquids, which is comprised of a mixture of food grade, recyclable solvents, generally regarded as safe (GRAS), such as pressurized carbon dioxide and anhydrous ethanol. The unique properties of PGX liquids afford single phase conditions and very low or vanishing interfacial tension during the spraying process. This then allows the generation of extremely fine particle morphologies with high porosity and a large specific surface area resulting in favorable solubilisation properties. This platform drying technology has been successfully scaled up from lab scale to pilot scale with a processing capacity of about 200 kg/hr of aqueous solutions.

Ceapro is based in Edmonton in the province of Alberta. This is a province with a CNC (cellulose nanocrytals) pilot production plant as I noted in my Nov. 10, 2013 posting where I belatedly mentioned the plant’s September 2013 commissioning date. The plant was supposed to have had a grand opening in 2014 according to a Sept. 12, 2013 Alberta Innovates Technology Futures [AITF] news release,

“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. “Today’s commissioning is an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to provide technological know-how to our research and industry partners in their continued applied R&D and commercialization efforts. We’re able to provide researchers with more CNC than ever before, thereby accelerating the development of commercial applications.”

Members of Alberta’s and Western Canada’s growing CNC communities of expertise and interest spent the afternoon exploring potential commercial applications for the cellulose-based ‘wonder material.’

The CNC Pilot Plant’s Grand Opening is planned for 2014. [emphasis mine]

I have not been able to find any online trace of the plant’s grand opening. But I did find a few things. The AITF website has a page dedicated to CNC and its pilot plant and there’s a slide show about CNC and occupational health and safety from members of Alberta’s CNC Pilot Plant Research Team for their project, which started in 2014.

No mention in the Alberta media materials is ever made of CelluForce, a CNC production plant in the province of Québec, which predates the Alberta plant by more than 18 months (my Dec. 15, 2011 posting).

One last comment, CNC or cellulose nanocrystals are sometimes called nanocrystalline cellulose or NCC. This is a result of Canadians who were leaders at the time naming the substance NCC but over time researchers and producers from other countries have favoured the term CNC. Today (2015), the NCC term has been trademarked by Celluforce.

Cellulose nanocrystals and supercapacitors at McMaster University (Canada)

Photos: Xuan Yang and Kevin Yager.

Photos: Xuan Yang and Kevin Yager. Courtesy McMaster University

I love that featherlike structure holding up a tiny block of something while balanced on what appears to be a series of medallions. What it has to do with supercapacitors (energy storage) and cellulose nanocrystals is a mystery but that’s one of the images you’ll find illustrating an Oct. 7, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now featuring research at McMaster University,

McMaster Engineering researchers Emily Cranston and Igor Zhitomirsky are turning trees into energy storage devices capable of powering everything from a smart watch to a hybrid car.

The scientists are using cellulose, an organic compound found in plants, bacteria, algae and trees, to build more efficient and longer-lasting energy storage devices or supercapacitors. This development paves the way toward the production of lightweight, flexible, and high-power electronics, such as wearable devices, portable power supplies and hybrid and electric vehicles.

A Sept. 10, 2015 McMaster University news release, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

Cellulose offers the advantages of high strength and flexibility for many advanced applications; of particular interest are nanocellulose-based materials. The work by Cranston, an assistant chemical engineering professor, and Zhitomirsky, a materials science and engineering professor, demonstrates an improved three-dimensional energy storage device constructed by trapping functional nanoparticles within the walls of a nanocellulose foam.

The foam is made in a simplified and fast one-step process. The type of nanocellulose used is called cellulose nanocrystals and looks like uncooked long-grain rice but with nanometer-dimensions. In these new devices, the ‘rice grains’ have been glued together at random points forming a mesh-like structure with lots of open space, hence the extremely lightweight nature of the material. This can be used to produce more sustainable capacitor devices with higher power density and faster charging abilities compared to rechargeable batteries.

Lightweight and high-power density capacitors are of particular interest for the development of hybrid and electric vehicles. The fast-charging devices allow for significant energy saving, because they can accumulate energy during braking and release it during acceleration.

For anyone interested in a more detailed description of supercapacitors, there’s my favourite one which involves Captain America’s shield along with some serious science in my April 28, 2014 posting.

Getting back to the research at McMaster, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Cellulose Nanocrystal Aerogels as Universal 3D Lightweight Substrates for Supercapacitor Materials by Xuan Yang, Kaiyuan Shi, Igor Zhitomirsky, and Emily D. Cranston. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201502284View/save citation First published online 2 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final bit, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are sometimes referred to as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).

Nanocellulose markets report released

I don’t usually feature reports about market conditions as this information lies far outside my understanding. In other words, this post is not an endorsement. However, as I often feature information on nanocellulose and, less frequently, on efforts of commercialize it, this June 3, 2015 news item on Azonano is being added here to provide a more complete picture of the ‘nanocellulose scene’,

The report “Nanocellulose Market by Type (Cellulose nanocrystals [aka nanocellulose nanocrystals {NCC} or {CNC}], Cellulose nanofibrils [CNF], cellulose nanocomposites, and others), Application (Composites and Packaging, Paper and Paper Board, Biomedicine, Rheology Modifier, Flexible Electronics and Sensors, and Others), and Geography – Regional Trends & Forecast to 2019” published by MarketsandMarkets, Nanocellulose Market is projected to register a market size in terms of value of $250 Million by 2019, signifying firm annualized CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 19% between 2014 and 2019.

Here’s more from the MarketsandMarkets undated news release,

Early buyers will receive 10% customization on reports.

Nanocellulose market is projected to register a market size in terms of value of $250 Million by 2019, signifying firm annualized CAGR of 19% between 2014 and 2019.

The report also identifies the driving and restraining factors for nanocellulose market with an analysis of drivers, restraints, opportunities, and strengths. The market is segmented and the value has been forecasted on the basis of important regions, such as Asia-Pacific, North America, Europe, and Rest of the World (RoW). Further, the market is segmented and the demand and value are forecasted on the basis of various key applications of nano cellulose, such as composites and packaging, paper and paper board, biomedicine, and other applications.

Rising demand for technological advancements in end-user industries is driving the nanocellulose market

The application of nano cellulose [sic for all instances] in the end-user industries is witnessing a revolutionary change mainly due to the commercial development of nano cellulose driven by the increasing petroleum prices and the high-energy intensity in the production of chemicals and synthetic polymers. Nano cellulose is being developed for the novel use in applications ranging from scaffolds in tissue engineering, artificial skin and cartilage, wound healing, and vessel substitutes to biodegradable food packaging.

The nano cellulose is considered as a viable alternative to the more expensive high tech materials such as carbon fibers and carbon nanotubes. Since nano cellulose is made from tightly packed array of needle like crystals, it becomes incredibly tough. This makes it perfect for building future body armors that are both strong and light. Nano cellulose is also being used to make ultra-absorbent aerogels, fuel efficient cars, biofuel, and many more. Nano cellulose has also been used as a tablet binder in the pharmaceutical companies, with gradual increasing applications in tampons, advance wound healing, and developing a vital role in existing healthcare products.

North America is projected to drive the highest demand for nano cellulose in its end-user industries by 2020 [sic]

North America is the largest market for nano cellulose currently and the same is expected to continue till 2019. This is because of continuous technological innovations, advancements in healthcare industry, and rising focus on biodegradable food packaging. Europe market is expected to register second highest growth rate after North America. The Asia-Pacific market is expected to show a steady growth rate but the market is currently lower than North America and Europe. The U.S. and European countries are projected to be the hub of nano cellulose manufacturing in the world and are projected to be the major consumers of nano cellulose by 2019.

You can find the report, published in April 2015, here.

The shorter, the better for cellulose nanofibres

Cellulose nanomaterials can be derived from any number of plants. In Canada, we tend to think of our trees first but there are other sources such as cotton, bananas, hemp, carrots, and more.

In anticipation that cellulose nanofibres will become increasingly important constituents of various products and having noticed a resemblance to carbon nanotubes, scientists in Switzerland have investigated the possible toxicity issues according to a May 7, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Plant-based cellulose nanofibres do not pose a short-term health risk, especially short fibres, shows a study conducted in the context of National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64). But lung cells are less efficient in eliminating longer fibres.

Similar to carbon nanotubes that are used in cycling helmets and tennis rackets, cellulose nanofibres are extremely light while being extremely tear-resistant. But their production is significantly cheaper because they can be manufactured from plant waste of cotton or banana plants. “It is only a matter of time before they prevail on the market,” says Christoph Weder of the Adolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Fribourg [Switzerland].

A May 7, 2015 Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

In the context of the National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64), he collaborated with the team of Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser to examine whether these plant-based nanofibres are harmful to the lungs when inhaled. The investigation does not rely on animal testing; instead the group of Rothen-Rutishauser developped a complex 3D lung cell system to simulate the surface of the lungs by using various human cell cultures in the test tube.

The shorter, the better

Their results (*) show that cellulose nanofibres are not harmful: the analysed lung cells showed no signs of acute stress or inflammation. But there were clear differences between short and long fibres: the lung cell system efficiently eliminated short fibres while longer fibres stayed on the cell surface.

“The testing only lasted two days because we cannot grow the cell cultures for longer,” explains Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser. For this reason, she adds, they cannot say if the longer fibre may have a negative impact on the lungs in the long term. Tests involving carbon nanotubes have shown that lung cells lose their equilibrium when they are faced with long tubes because they try to incorporate them into the cell to no avail. “This frustrated phagocytosis can trigger an inflammatory reaction,” says Rothen-Rutishauser. To avoid potential harm, she recommends that companies developing products with nanofibres use fibres that are short and pliable instead of long and rigid.

National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64)

The National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64) hopes to be able to bridge the gaps in our current knowledge on nanomaterials. Opportunities and risks for human health and the environment in relation to the manufacture, use and disposal of synthetic nanomaterials need to be better understood. The projects started their research work in December 2010.

I have a link to and a citation for the paper (Note: They use the term cellulose nanocrystals in the paper’s title),

Fate of Cellulose Nanocrystal Aerosols Deposited on the Lung Cell Surface In Vitro by Carola Endes, Silvana Mueller, Calum Kinnear, Dimitri Vanhecke, E. Johan Foster, Alke Petri-Fink, Christoph Weder, Martin J. D. Clift, and Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser. Biomacromolecules, 2015, 16 (4), pp 1267–1275 DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.5b00055 Publication Date (Web): March 19, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

While tracking down the 2015 paper, I found this from 2011,

Investigating the Interaction of Cellulose Nanofibers Derived from Cotton with a Sophisticated 3D Human Lung Cell Coculture by Martin J. D. Clift, E. Johan Foster, Dimitri Vanhecke, Daniel Studer, Peter Wick, Peter Gehr, Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser, and Christoph Weder. Biomacromolecules, 2011, 12 (10), pp 3666–3673 DOI: 10.1021/bm200865j Publication Date (Web): August 16, 2011

Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

Both papers are behind a paywall.

Cellullose nanocrystals (CNC) and better concrete

Earlier this week in a March 30, 2015 post, I was bemoaning the dearth of applications for cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) with concomitant poor prospects for commercialization and problems for producers such as Canada’s CelluForce. Possibly this work at Purdue University (Indiana, US) will help address some of those issues (from a March 31, 2015 news item on Nanowerk),

Cellulose nanocrystals derived from industrial byproducts have been shown to increase the strength of concrete, representing a potential renewable additive to improve the ubiquitous construction material.

The cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) could be refined from byproducts generated in the paper, bioenergy, agriculture and pulp industries. They are extracted from structures called cellulose microfibrils, which help to give plants and trees their high strength, lightweight and resilience. Now, researchers at Purdue University have demonstrated that the cellulose nanocrystals can increase the tensile strength of concrete by 30 percent.

A March 31, 2015 Purdue University news release by Emil Venere, which originated the news item, further describes the research published in print as of February 2015 (Note: A link has been removed),

One factor limiting the strength and durability of today’s concrete is that not all of the cement particles are hydrated after being mixed, leaving pores and defects that hamper strength and durability.

“So, in essence, we are not using 100 percent of the cement,” Zavattieri [Pablo Zavattieri, an associate professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering] said.

However, the researchers have discovered that the cellulose nanocrystals increase the hydration of the concrete mixture, allowing more of it to cure and potentially altering the structure of concrete and strengthening it.  As a result, less concrete needs to be used.

The cellulose nanocrystals are about 3 to 20 nanometers wide by 50-500 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. They come from a variety of biological sources, primarily trees and plants.

The concrete was studied using several analytical and imaging techniques. Because chemical reactions in concrete hardening are exothermic, some of the tests measured the amount of heat released, indicating an increase in hydration of the concrete. The researchers also hypothesized the precise location of the nanocrystals in the cement matrix and learned how they interact with cement particles in both fresh and hardened concrete. The nanocrystals were shown to form little inlets for water to better penetrate the concrete.

The research dovetails with the goals of P3Nano, a public-private partnership supporting development and use of wood-based nanomaterial for a wide-range of commercial products.

“The idea is to support and help Purdue further advance the CNC-Cement technology for full-scale field trials and the potential for commercialization,” Zavattieri said.

The researchers have provided an image,

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures derived from renewable sources that might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with many potential applications. The structures have been shown to increase the strength of concrete. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures derived from renewable sources that might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with many potential applications. The structures have been shown to increase the strength of concrete. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

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

The influence of cellulose nanocrystal additions on the performance of cement paste by Yizheng Cao, Pablo Zavaterri, Jeff Youngblood, Robert Moon, and Jason Weiss. Cement and Concrete Composites, Volume 56, February 2015, Pages 73–83  DOI: 10.1016/j.cemconcomp.2014.11.008 Available online 18 November 2014

The paper is behind a paywall.

One final note, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) may also be referred to nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).


Commercializing cellulosic nanomaterials—a report from the US Dept. of Agriculture

Earlier this year in an April 10, 2014 post, I announced a then upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop focused on cellulose nanomaterials in particular. While the report from the workshop, held in May, seems to have been published in August, news of its existence seems to have surfaced only now. From a Nov. 24, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Forest Service has released a report that details the pathway to commercializing affordable, renewable, and biodegradable cellulose nanomaterials from trees. Cellulosic nanomaterials are tiny, naturally occurring structural building blocks and hold great promise for many new and improved commercial products. Commercializing these materials also has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of American jobs while helping to restore our nation’s forests.

“This report is yet another important step toward commercializing a material that can aid in restoring our nations’ forests, provide jobs, and improve products that make the lives of Americans better every day,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Forest Service plans to generate greater public and market awareness of the benefits and uses for these naturally-occurring nanomaterials.”

The report, titled “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization” (pdf), is a result of a workshop held earlier this year that brought together a wide range of experts from industry, academia, and government to ensure that commercialization efforts are driven by market and user materials needs.

A Nov. 24, 2014 US Dept. of Agriculture news release (Note: The US Forest Service is a division of the US Dept. of Agriculture), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the reasons for holding the workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

Cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to add value to an array of new and improved products across a range of industries, including electronics, construction, food, energy, health care, automotive, aerospace, and defense, according to Ted Wegner, assistant director at the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

“These environmentally friendly materials are extremely attractive because they have a unique combination of high strength, high stiffness, and light weight at what looks to be affordable prices,” Wegner explained. “Creating market pull for cellulose nanomaterials is critical to its commercialization.

The success of this commercialization effort is important to the U.S. Forest Service for another key reason: creating forests that are more resilient to disturbances through restorative actions. Removing excess biomass from overgrown forests and making it into higher value products like nanocellulose, is a win for the environment and for the economy.

“Finding high-value, high-volume uses for low-value materials is the key to successful forest restoration,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and Forest Products Laboratory. “With about 400 million acres of America’s forests in need of some type of restorative action, finding markets for wood-based nanocellulose could have a huge impact on the economic viability of that work.”

The U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, organized the workshop. Participants included over 130 stakeholders from large volume industrial users, specialty users, Federal Government agencies, academia, non-government organizations, cellulose nanomaterials manufactures and industry consultants. The workshop generated market-driven input in three areas: Opportunities for Commercialization, Barriers to Commercialization, and Research and Development Roles and Priorities. Issues identified by participants included the need for more data on materials properties, performance, and environmental, health, and safety implications and the need for a more aggressive U.S. response to opportunities for advancing and developing cellulose nanomaterial.

“The workshop was a great opportunity to get research ideas directly from the people who want to use the material,” says World Nieh, the U.S. Forest Service’s national program lead for forest products. “Getting the market perspective and finding out what barriers they have encountered is invaluable guidance for moving research in a direction that will bring cellulose nanomaterials into the marketplace for commercial use.”

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

The report titled, “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization,” notes the situation from the US perspective (from p. 5 of the PDF report),

Despite great market potential, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is moving slowly. In contrast, foreign research, development, and deployment (RD&D) of cellulose nanomaterials has received significant governmental support through investments and coordination. [emphasis mine] U.S. RD&D activities have received much less government support and instead have relied on public-private partnerships and private sector investment. Without additional action to increase government investments and coordination, the United States could miss the window of opportunity for global leadership and end up being an “also ran” that has to import cellulose nanomaterials and products made by incorporating cellulose nanomaterials. If this happens, significant economic and social benefits would be lost. Accelerated commercialization for both the production and application of cellulose nanomaterials in a wide array of products is a critical national challenge.

I know the Canadian government has invested heavily in cellulose nanomaterials particularly in Québec (CelluForce, a DomTar and FPInnovations production facility for CNC [cellulose nanocrystals] also known as NCC [nanocrystalline cellulose]). There’s also some investment in Alberta (an unnamed CNC production facility) and Saskatchewan (Blue Goose Biorefineries). As for other countries and constituencies which come to mind and have reported on cellulose nanomaterial research, there’s Brazil, the European Union, Sweden, Finland, and Israel. I do not have details about government investments in those constituencies. I believe the report’s source supporting this contention is in Appendix E,  (from p. 41 of the PDF report),

Moon, Robert, and Colleen Walker. 2012. “Research into Cellulose
Nanomaterials Spans the Globe.” Paper360 7(3): 32–34. EBSCOhost. Accessed June 17, 2014 [behind a paywall]

Here’s a description of the barriers to commercialization (from p. 6 of the PDF report),

Clarifying the problems to be solved is a precursor to identifying solutions. The workshop identified critical barriers that are slowing commercialization. These barriers included lack of collaboration among potential producers and users; coordination of efforts among government, industry, and academia; lack of characterization and standards for cellulose nanomaterials; the need for greater market pull; and the need to overcome processing technical challenges related to cellulose nanomaterials dewatering and dispersion. While significant, these barriers are not insurmountable as long as the underlying technical challenges are properly addressed. With the right focus and sufficient resources, R&D should be able to overcome these key identified barriers.

There’s a list of potential applications (p. 7 of the PDF report).

Cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated potential applications in a wide array of industrial sectors, including electronics, construction, packaging, food, energy, health care, automotive, and defense. Cellulose nanomaterials are projected to be less expensive than many other nanomaterials and, among other characteristics, tout an impressive strength-to-weight ratio (Erickson 2012, 26). The theoretical strength-to-weight performance offered by cellulose nanomaterials are unmatched by current technology (NIST 2008,
17). Furthermore, cellulose nanomaterials have proven to have major environmental benefits because they are recyclable, biodegradable, and produced from renewable resources.

I wonder if that strength-to-weight ratio comment is an indirect reference to carbon nanotubes which are usually the ‘strength darlings’ of the nanotech community.

More detail about potential applications is given on p. 9 of the PDF report,

All forms of cellulose nanomaterials are lightweight, strong, and stiff. CNCs possess photonic and piezoelectric properties, while CNFs can provide very stable hydrogels and aerogels. In addition, cellulose nanomaterials have low materials cost potential compared to other competing materials and, in their unmodified state, have so far shown few environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns (Ireland, Jones, Moon, Wegner, and Nieh 2014, 6). Currently, cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated great potential for use in many areas, including aerogels, oil drilling additives, paints, coatings, adhesives, cement, food additives, lightweight packaging materials, paper, health care products, tissue scaffolding, lightweight vehicle armor, space technology, and automotive parts. Hence, cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to positively impact numerous industries. An important attribute of cellulose nanomaterials is that they are derived from renewable and broadly available resources (i.e., plant, animal, bacterial, and algal biomass). They are biodegradable and bring recyclability to products that contain them.

This particular passage should sound a familiar note for Canadians, from p. 11 of the PDF report,

However, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States has been moving slowly. Since 2009, the USDA Forest Service has invested around $20 million in cellulose nanomaterials R&D, a small fraction of the $680 million spent on cellulose nanomaterials R&D by governments worldwide (Erickson 2014, 26). In order to remain globally competitive, accelerated research, development, and commercialization
of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is imperative. Otherwise, the manufacturing of cellulose nanomaterials and cellulose nanomaterial-enabled products will be established by foreign producers, and the United States will be purchasing these materials from other countries. [emphasis mine] Establishing a large-scale production of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is critical for creating new uses from wood—which is, in turn, vital to the future of forest management and the livelihood of landowners.

Here are some of the challenges and barriers identified in the workshop (pp. 19 – 21 of the PDF report),

Need for Characterization and Standards:
In order for a new material to be adopted for use, it must be well understood and end users must have confidence that the material is the same from one batch to the next. There is a need to better characterize cellulose nanomaterials with respect to their structure, surface properties, and performance. …

Production and Processing Methods:
Commercialization is inhibited by the lack of processing and production methods and know-how for ensuring uniform, reliable, and cost-effective production of cellulose nanomaterials, especially at large volumes. This is both a scale-up and a process control issue. …

Need for More Complete EHS Information:
Limited EHS information creates a significant barrier to commercialization because any uncertainty regarding material safety and the pending regulatory environment presents risk for early movers across all industries. …

Need for Market Pull and Cost/Benefit Performance:
As noted earlier, cellulose nanomaterials have potential applications in a wide range of areas, but there is no single need that is driving their commercial development. Stakeholders suggested several reasons, including lack of awareness of the material and its properties and a need for better market understanding. Commercialization will require market pull in order to incentivize manufacturers, yet there is no perceptible demand for cellulose nanomaterials at the moment. …

Challenge of Dewatering/Drying:
One of the most significant technical challenges identified is the dewatering of cellulose nanomaterials into a dry and usable form for incorporation into other materials. The lack of an energy-efficient, cost-effective drying process inhibits commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials, particularly for non-aqueous applications. Cellulose nanomaterials in low-concentration aqueous suspensions raise resource and transportation costs, which make them less viable commercially.

Technology Readiness:
Technology readiness is a major challenge in the adoption of cellulose nanomaterials. One obstacle in developing a market for cellulose nanomaterials is the lack of information on the basic properties of different types of cellulose nanomaterials, as noted in the characterization and standards discussion. …

The rest of the report concerns Research & Development (R&D) Roles and Priorities and the Path Forward. In total, this document is 44 pp. long and includes a number of appendices. Here’s where you can read “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization.”

Final words on TAPPI’s June 2014 Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials conference

A July 8, 2014 news item on Nanowerk provides some statistics about the recently ended (June 23 – 26, 2014) TAPPI (Technical Association for the Pulp, Paper, Packaging and Converting Industries) Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials,

Over 230 delegates from 25 countries gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada last week at TAPPI’s 9th International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Nanomaterials. “This year’s conference was exceptional,” noted co-chair Wadood Hamad, Priniciple Scientist, FPInnovations. “The keynote and technical presentations were of very high quality. The advancements made in many applications show great promise, and we will see expanded commercial use of these renewable biomaterials.”

An identical news item dated July 7, 2014 on Nanotechnology Now,notes the commercial announcements made during the conference,

Several key commercial announcements were made at this year’s conference, highlighting the tangible growth in this emerging market area of renewable biopolymers:

Celluforce, which opened their commercial plant in January 2012, shared six advanced commercial projects.

Imerys announced the launch of their new FiberLean™ MFC innovative composite, which enables a 10-15% reduction in fiber usage for papermaking applications.

Representatives from the newly formed BioFilaments shared information on their unique high performance biomaterial derived from wood cellulose to be used as reinforcing agents and rheological modifiers.

Blue Goose Biorefineries presented their patent-pending process for producing cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp.

Nippon Paper Industries introduced Cellenpia, their cellulose nanofibers produced from their pre-commercial plant.

GL&V presented their commercial system, developed with the University of Maine, to produce cellulose nanofibrils at a very low energy cost.

American Process Inc. presented their latest results of producing lignin-coated nanocellulose particles using their AVAP® technology which produces a material that is more easily dispersed and has enhanced properties.

I wish them good luck with their projects.

Nanocellulose and an intensity of structural colour

I love the topic of structural colour (or color, depending on your spelling preferences) and have covered it many times and in many ways. One of the best pieces I’ve encountered about structural colour (an article by Christina Luiggi for The Scientist provided an overview of structural colour as it’s found in plants and animals) was featured in my Feb. 7, 2013 posting. If you go to my posting, you’ll find a link to Luiggi’s article which I recommend reading in its entirety if you have the time.

As for this latest nanocellulose story, a June 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describes University of Cambridge (UK) research into films and structural colour,

Brightly-coloured, iridescent films, made from the same wood pulp that is used to make paper, could potentially substitute traditional toxic pigments in the textile and security industries. The films use the same principle as can be seen in some of the most vivid colours in nature, resulting in colours which do not fade, even after a century.

Some of the brightest and most colourful materials in nature – such as peacock feathers, butterfly wings and opals – get their colour not from pigments, but from their internal structure alone.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have recreated a similar structure in the lab, resulting in brightly-coloured films which could be used for textile or security applications.

A June 13, 2014 University of Cambridge news release, which originated the news item, describe the phenomenon of structural colour as it applies to cellulose materials,

In plants such as Pollia condensata, striking iridescent and metallic colours are the result of cellulose fibres arranged in spiral stacks, which reflect light at specific wavelengths. [emphasis mine]

Cellulose is made up of long chains of sugar molecules, and is the most abundant biomass material in nature. It can be found in the cells of every plant and is the main compound that gives cell walls their strength.

The news release goes on to provide a brief description of the research,

The researchers used wood pulp, the same material that is used for producing paper, as their starting material. Through manipulating the structure of the cellulose contained in the wood pulp, the researchers were able to fabricate iridescent colour films without using pigments.

To make the films, the researchers extracted cellulose nanocrystals from the wood pulp. When suspended in water, the rod-like nanocrystals spontaneously assemble into nanostructured layers that selectively reflect light of a specific colour. The colour reflected depends on the dimensions of the layers. By varying humidity conditions during the film fabrication, the researchers were able to change the reflected colour and capture the different phases of the colour formation.

Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are also known as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).

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

Controlled, Bio-inspired Self-Assembly of Cellulose-Based Chiral Reflectors by Ahu Gumrah Dumanli, Gen Kamita, Jasper Landman, Hanne van der Kooij, Beverley J. Glover, Jeremy J. Baumberg, Ullrich Steiner, and Silvia Vignolini. Optical Materials Article first published online: 30 MAY 2014 DOI: 10.1002/adom.201400112

© 2014 The Authors. Published by WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

While the researchers have supplied an image of the Pollia condensata, I prefer this one, which is also featured in my Feb. 7, 2013 posting,

AGELESS BRILLIANCE: Although the pigment-derived leaf color of this decades-old specimen of the African perennial Pollia condensata has faded, the fruit still maintains its intense metallic-blue iridescence.COURTESY OF P.J. RUDALL [downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34200/title/Color-from-Structure/]

AGELESS BRILLIANCE: Although the pigment-derived leaf color of this decades-old specimen of the African perennial Pollia condensata has faded, the fruit still maintains its intense metallic-blue iridescence.COURTESY OF P.J. RUDALL [downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34200/title/Color-from-Structure/]

Stunning, non?

Doubling paper strength with nanofibrils; a nanocellulose story

A June 3, 2014 Cerealus news release on PR Newswire announces a successful commercial trial for a new nanoscale process making paper stronger,

Cerealus, working with the University of Maine Process Development Center continues to be a leader in innovative technologies for Paper and Forestry research. Utilizing Cerealus’ unique starch encapsulation technology and UMaine’s proprietary developments, the collaborative effort enabled a novel bio-based cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) process to be used in paper and paperboard manufacturing at significantly higher levels than previously possible to develop high strength, lightweight and lower cost paper and paperboard.

The latest commercial trial doubled cellulose Nanofibril utilization in paper with the patent pending starch encapsulation technology, marketed as Cerenano™. This project confirms the promise of nanotechnology to deliver dramatic improvement in sheet density, porosity, surface quality and Z-direction strength (internal bond). Paper mills can expect:

  •     Tighter sheet
  •     More uniform surface
  •     Better printability
  •     Reduced opacity
  •     Reduced energy requirements

The collaborative private/public partnership has significantly improved the economic prospects for deploying nanotechnology in paper, wood and forestry products. A recent report estimates the current addressable market for nano cellulose at $500 million for North America.

Mike Bilodeau, Director of the UMaine Process Development Center underscored the commercial scalability of this project by saying, “This technology represents a significant break-through in the ability to leverage the unique properties of cellulose nanofibrils in paper and paperboard products.”

Tony Jabar, CEO and founder of Cerealus goes on to say, “Cerealus takes great pride in taking a lead role to create cutting edge nanocellulose technology. Successful paper makers appreciate innovation as a key to sustained profitability in the challenging paper making sector of our economy. This new development is our third generation technology and demonstrates the value of our collaboration with the University of Maine Process Development Center.”

Cerenano™ is a high performance additive that enables efficient loading of high levels of starch thus creating strong internal bond strength. The successful commercial trial demonstrated positive economic benefits and commercial scalability. The likely next phase in product development will be size press applications.

The University of Maine is working with several private companies and federal agencies to accelerate the commercialization of cellulose nanofibrils. This effort has significant implications to the health of National Forests and private timberland, as well as strategic and economic impacts to the domestic Forest Products Industry.

You can find Cerealus here and Cerenano™ page here where there’s a link to a 50 pp. presentation on Cerenano. From the presentation,

Using Renewable Nanotechnology (and Other Novel Approaches) to Improve Base Paper Performance
AWA Conferences & Events
AWA Silicone Technology Seminar 2014
March 19, 2014
Park Plaza Hotel Amsterdam Airport
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Robert Hamilton
Stirling Consulting, Inc.

I was particularly interested to see this (from p. 3 of the presentation),

Cellulose Nanofibrils (CNF)
The Renewable Nanomaterial

• CNF can be made from any plant matter.
# Process uses a series of mechanical refining steps.
# Resulting material is FDA compliant and compatible with any aqueous system. CNF is cellulose.

• Not to be confused with Cellulose NanoCrystals (CNC)
# Produced using more expensive strong acid hydrolysis process.

It’s the first time I’ve stumbled across a comparison of any kind between CNC (also known as NCC, nanocrystalline cellulose) and CNF and I find it quite instructive.

Richard Berry (CelluForce) wins TAPPI’s first technical award in the nanotechnology division

Another day, another award for Dr. Richard Berry, as per this May 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Dr. Richard Berry of CelluForce has been named the first recipient of TAPPI’s International Nanotechnology Division’s Technical Award. This award recognizes outstanding accomplishments or contributions which have advanced the responsible and sustainable production and use of renewable nanomaterials. Dr. Berry will be presented with this award at TAPPI’s 2014 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials to be held June 23-26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Currently Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer for CelluForce, Berry has had a storied career (from the news item),

Prior to moving to CelluForce in 2011 he was Principal Scientist and leader of the nanotechnology initiative at FPInnovations. … He’s received many awards including the Nano-industry award from Nano Québec for his exceptional contribution to the development of cellulose nanocrystals, the Purvis Memorial Award and he’s been named one of Canada’s Clean 50 honourees. The initiatives Dr. Berry has spearheaded in recent years have allowed Canada to position itself as a world leader in the development of the new nanotechnology industry. This work was recognised through the 2012 NSERC Synergy award for innovation given to McGill University, FPInnovations, ArboraNano, and CelluForce .. .

I notice that the news item uses the term cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) rather than nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). Perhaps this means someone will put me out of my misery soon and declare one term or other the winner.

As for the reference to Canada as a “a world leader in the development of the new nanotechnology industry,” that seems a little grandiose and odd. To my knowledge, no one refers to a ‘nanotechnology industry’. I believe the writer is trying say that Canada is a leader in the production of CNC. I wonder if they’ve (CelluForce) dealt with their stockpile first mentioned here in an Oct. 3, 2013 posting and again in an April 10, 2014 posting about the US Dept. of Agriculture’s workshop on commercializing cellulose nanomaterials. Should anyone know of the stockpile’s status at this time, please do let me know.

Here’s a link to the 2014 TAPPI Nanotechnology conference website here. and an interview here (Aug. 27, 2010)  where Dr. Berry very kindly answered my questions about what was then called, indisputably, nanocrystalline cellulose.