Tag Archives: cellulose nanofibrillated fiber (CNF)

Reusable ‘sponge’ for soaking up marine oil spills—even in northern waters

A May 28, 2024 news item on phys.org announces some new research into sponges, a topic of some interest where oil spill cleanups are concerned,

Oil spills, if not cleaned up quickly and effectively, can cause lasting damage to marine and coastal environments. That’s why a team of North American researchers are developing a new sponge-like material that is not only effective at grabbing and holding oil on its surface (adsorption), but can be reused again and again—even in icy Canadian waters….

A May 27, 2024 Canadian Light Source (CLS) news release (also received via email) by Rowan Hollinger provides some details, Note: CNF can be cellulose nanofibers, cellulose nanofibrils, or, it’s sometimes called, nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) (see Nanocellulose Wikipedia entry),,

The special material – called CNF-SP aerogel — combines a biodegradable cellulose-based material with a substance called spiropyran, a light-sensitive material. Spiropyran has a unique ‘switchable’ property that allows the aerogel to go between being oil-sorbent and oil-repellent, just like a kitchen sponge that can be used to soak up and squeeze out water.

“Once spiropyran has been added to the aerogel, after each usage we just switch the light condition,” explains Dr. Baiyu Helen Zhang, professor and Canada Research Chair at Memorial University, Newfoundland. “We used the aerogel as an oil sorbent under visible light. After oil adsorption, we switched the light condition to UV light. This switch helped the sponge to release the oil.”

And the material continues soaking up and releasing oil, even when the water temperature drops, according to Dr. Xiujuan Chen, an assistant professor at University of Texas – Arlington.

“We found that when we tested the oil sorbent’s performance under different kinds of environmental conditions, it had a very good performance in a cold environment. This is quite useful for cold winter seasons, particularly for Canada.”

The researchers used the CLS’s Mid-IR beamline to examine the characteristics of the aerogel before and after exposing it to visible and UV light. From here, the researchers are looking to scale up their research with large pilot studies and even testing the material in the field.

“The CLS has very unique infrastructure that supports students and researchers like us to conduct many kinds of very exciting research and to contribute to scientific knowledge and engineering applications,” says Zhang.

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

Development of a spiropyran-assisted cellulose aerogel with switchable wettability as oil sorbent for oil spill cleanup by Hongjie Wang, Xiujuan Chen, Bing Chen, Yuming Zhao, Baiyu Zhang. Science of The Total Environment Volume 923, 1 May 2024, 171451 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.171451 Available online: 2 March 2024 Version of Record: 8 March 2024

This paper is behind a paywall.

The CLS has made this video of the researchers available,

For the curious, I have many posts about sponges and, in particular, sponges for use in environmental cleanups.

Cellulose Nanofibrillated Fiber Based Transistors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

There’s a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working to substitute silicon used in computer chips with cellulose derived from wood (my May 27, 2015 posting). Their latest effort, featuring mobile electronics, is described in a July 1, 2015 news item on Azonano,

A report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 showed that about 152 million mobile devices are discarded every year, of which only 10 percent is recycled — a legacy of waste that consumes a tremendous amount of natural resources and produces a lot of trash made from expensive and non-biodegradable materials like highly purified silicon.

Now researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have come up with a new solution to alleviate the environmental burden of discarded electronics. They have demonstrated the feasibility of making microwave biodegradable thin-film transistors from a transparent, flexible biodegradable substrate made from inexpensive wood, called cellulose nanofibrillated fiber (CNF). This work opens the door for green, low-cost, portable electronic devices in future.

A June 30, 2015 American Institute of Physics news release by Zhengzheng Zhang, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

“We found that cellulose nanofibrillated fiber based transistors exhibit superior performance as that of conventional silicon-based transistors,” said Zhenqiang Ma, the team leader and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UW-Madison. “And the bio-based transistors are so safe that you can put them in the forest, and fungus will quickly degrade them. They become as safe as fertilizer.”

Nowadays, the majority of portable electronics are built on non-renewable, non-biodegradable materials such as silicon wafers, which are highly purified, expensive and rigid substrates, but cellulose nanofibrillated fiber films have the potential to replace silicon wafers as electronic substrates in environmental friendly, low-cost, portable gadgets or devices of the future.

Cellulose nanofibrillated fiber is a sustainable, strong, transparent nanomaterial made from wood. Compared to other polymers like plastics, the wood nanomaterial is biocompatible and has relatively low thermal expansion coefficient, which means the material won’t change shape as the temperature changes. All these superior properties make cellulose nanofibril an outstanding candidate for making portable green electronics.

To create high-performance devices, Ma’s team employed silicon nanomembranes as the active material in the transistor — pieces of ultra-thin films (thinner than a human hair) peeled from the bulk crystal and then transferred and glued onto the cellulose nanofibrill substrate to create a flexible, biodegradable and transparent silicon transistor.To create high-performance devices, Ma’s team employed silicon nanomembranes as the active material in the transistor — pieces of ultra-thin films (thinner than a human hair) peeled from the bulk crystal and then transferred and glued onto the cellulose nanofibrill substrate to create a flexible, biodegradable and transparent silicon transistor.

But to make portable electronics, the biodegradable transistor needed to be able to operate at microwave frequencies, which is the working range of most wireless devices. The researchers thus conducted a series of experiments such as measuring the current-voltage characteristics to study the device’s functional performance, which finally showed the biodegradable transistor has superior microwave-frequency operation capabilities comparable to existing semiconductor transistors.

“Biodegradable electronics provide a new solution for environmental problems brought by consumers’ pursuit of quickly upgraded portable devices,” said Ma. “It can be anticipated that future electronic chips and portable devices will be much greener and cheaper than that of today.”

Next, Ma and colleagues plan to develop more complicated circuit system based on the biodegradable transistors.

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

Microwave flexible transistors on cellulose nanofibrillated fiber substrates by Jung-Hun Seo, Tzu-Hsuan Chang, Jaeseong Lee, Ronald Sabo, Weidong Zhou, Zhiyong Cai, Shaoqin Gong, and Zhenqiang Ma.  Applied Physics Letters, Volume 106, Issue 26 or  Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 262101 (2015); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4921077

This is an open access paper.