Nanotechnology: Stronger Plastic Made From Cellulose

 In the recent past, the immense financial and technical support from government bodies and research organizations for exploring nanocellulose usage has primarily driven the global nanocellulose market.

NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC)

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have made a better thermoplastic by replacing styrene with lignin, a brittle, rigid polymer that, with cellulose, forms the woody cell walls of plants, said Nanotech Now March 24.

They have invented a solvent-free production process that interconnects equal parts of nanoscale lignin dispersed in a synthetic rubber matrix to produce a meltable, moldable, ductile material that’s at least ten times tougher than ABS. The resulting thermoplastic–called ABL for acrylonitrile, butadiene, lignin–is recyclable, as it can be melted three times and still perform well. The results, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, may bring cleaner, cheaper raw materials to diverse manufacturers.

Tougher Plastic Made with 50 Per Cent Renewable Content
The technology could make use of the lignin-rich biomass byproduct stream from biorefineries and pulp and paper mills. With the prices of natural gas and oil dropping, renewable fuels can’t compete with fossil fuels, so biorefineries are exploring options for developing other economically viable products. Among cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, the major structural constituents of plants, lignin is the most commercially underutilized. The ORNL study aimed to use it to produce, with an eye toward commercialization, a renewable thermoplastic with properties rivaling those of current petroleum-derived alternatives.

To produce an energy-efficient method of synthesizing and extruding high-performance thermoplastic elastomers based on lignin, the ORNL team needed to answer several questions: Can variations in lignin feedstocks be overcome to make a product with superior performance? Can lignin integrate into soft polymer matrices? Can the chemistry and physics of lignin-derived polymers be understood to enable better control of their properties? Can the process to produce lignin-derived polymers be engineered?

Technology Research Funding

University of BC research into forest renewal, quantum computer nanotechnology, solar power, high-tech manufacturing, forestry products and the subarctic ocean climate got a boost of $3.5 million last month from the fed- eral Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

UBC will partner with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Brinkman Group.

“NSERC’s support of these exciting projects not only furthers scientific research, but also helps strengthen science and technology across Canada,” added John Hepburn, vice president, research and international at UBC. “The Strategic Partnership Grants enable our researchers to build important, constructive partnerships with industry and government.”

Nanocellulose Market

Nanocellulose is a cellulose derived product that offers higher structural, mechanical, and rheological properties compared to its counterparts. Its unique properties include low gas permeability, high tensile strength, biodegradability, rheological modification, and high water vapor transmission rate. Nanocellulose is employed in numerous end-user industries such as composites, paper processing, food & beverages, paints & coatings, and oil & gas. North America and Europe are the leading regions in terms of demand for nanocellulose. These regions are expected to maintain their leading positions during the forecast period.

The report includes Porter’s Five Forces Model to deter- mine the degree of competition in the nanocellulose market. The report comprises a qualitative write-up on market attractiveness analysis, wherein end-users and countries have been analyzed based on attractiveness.

Europe’s First Pilot NCC Facility

A pilot facility for the production of nanocrystalline cellulose is being planned by MoRe Research, with the Swedish pulp and paper company Holmen, and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden. The facility will be the first of its kind in Europe and represents an important step, allowing interested companies to develop nanocrystalline cellulose from cellulose-based material on a large scale.

The pilot plant will be based on technology developed by an Israeli start-up company Melodea. Melodea is developing an industrial process for the extraction of nanocrystalline cellulose (known as NCC or CNC) from the sludge produced by pulp and paper mills. A major component of the sludge is tiny cellulose fibres that are washed away during paper manufacturing. Melodea says its technologies allow the recovery of these fibres and convert them to NCC product. The company is also developing unique technologies to assemble the NCC into ecologically friendly foams.

Melodea’s NCC production process incorporates controlled acid hydrolysis. It can also produce NCC from bleached pulp, and other cellulose sources such as ax and hemp fibres.

Large Spectrum Applications

The use of nanocellulose in numerous end-use industries is growing due to its contribution to reducing carbon footprint due to it being a renewable source. The high socio-economic benefits of nanocellulose will result in the global nanocellulose market expanding at a magnificent 33.8 per cent CAGR from 2015 to 2023, increasing the market’s valuation from US$54.9 million in 2014 to US$699.6 million by 2023.

Derived from wood pulp or plant cellulose, nanocellulose offers exceptional mechanical, rheological, thermal, and structural advantages over other cellulose-based derivatives and nanomaterials. Commonly known as cellulose, the shape of the material varies from ribbon-shaped to thread-shaped to short rod-shaped, depending on its source and manufacturing process. Nanocellulose is useful for a wide spectrum of applications – this ranges from blocking oxygen in packaging films to rheological modification use in oil field chemicals.