If there is such a thing as a ‘super material’ then it is nanocellulose. Or how about a material that can be used as a reinforcing agent in paper. A thickening agent in cosmetics and food. For wound healing. Or even to make paper that conducts energy? Among other things.
Nanocellulose is a material obtained from wood and plant fibres. It has exceptional strength properties on a par with Kevlar, but in contrast to Kevlar and other materials based on fossil raw materials, nanocellulose is completely renewable. At a time when many companies are looking to find bio-based solutions for their products and business, Nanocellulose has soared to the top of the list of interesting bio-based materials.
Material for anything between cosmetics and stem cells
Nanocellulose is already commercially available in many different places in the world and is now available in many products on the market such as liquid packaging board, ink in pens, nappies and cosmetics. However, there is a lot of research and development still taking place, not least in RISE laboratories.
– Here we are studying, among other things, how 3D-printed nanocellulose can be used as a framework for stem cells to produce new bone tissue. We also have several projects that look at how nanocellulose can be used for energy storage and bio-based electronics, explains Anna Carlmark.
Stronger than spider silk
A highly interesting track developed by researchers at RISE and KTH focuses on the spinning of nanocellulose threads. The result is a fibre that is even stiffer and stronger than spider silk, which is generally considered to be the strongest material in nature. The technology is patented by RISE and could be used for many of the lightweight materials of the future in cars, aircraft, furniture, textiles and construction. RISE is now working on scaling up the process to meet future needs.
From process development to industrial environment
Nanocellulose can be produced in different ways. Up until now, research as well as manufacturing at demonstration and factory scale have mainly been undertaken using fibrillar nanocellulose, MFC/NFC, and crystalline nanocellulose, CNC. Research is also carried out using bacterial nanocellulose. As the name implies, this Is produced using bacteria in bioreactors.
Fibrillar nanocellulose has been around since the beginning of the 1980s but the commercialisation failed due to the amount of energy required for the delamination of the fibres. The turning point came in the 2010s. The process development being undertaken by RISE at the time had led to new pre-treatment methods for fibre pulp that reduced energy consumption by up to 98 percent. Based on this process, a pilot plant was built at RISE in Stockholm for the production of nanocellulose on a larger scale and since 2016, RISE also has a transportable demonstration plant for testing and manufacturing in direct connection with various paper mills.
In collaboration with business partners, a pilot plant is now being established at RISE to produce crystalline nanocellulose on a larger scale based on a technique developed by the Israeli company Melodea. The plant will be the first of its kind in Europe. In the field of bacterial nanocellulose, the construction of a pilot plant in collaboration with Umeå University is already underway. Both of these plants are located in Örnsköldsvik, an important node for biorefinery development.
Fibrillar nanocellulose has been around since the early 1980s but commercialization failed due to the amount of energy required to delaminate fibers. The turning point came in the 2010s. The process development at RISE had then resulted in new pretreatment methods of fiber pulp which reduced energy consumption by up to 98 percent. Based on this process, a pilot plant was built at RISE in Stockholm to be able to produce nanocellulose on a larger scale, and since 2016, RISE has also a portable demonstration factory for testing and manufacturing in direct connection with various paper mills.