Use of Cellulose Based Products to Replace Plastic

Posted May 31, 2016 in Pulp and Paper Industry by Elizabeth Tischer

The breakthrough in the development of Cellulose based bio-products through grade development 

Research is now well under way in terms of the use of bio-nano-composites and nano-cellulose as packaging materials, as the trend towards veering away from the use of petroleum based plastics accelerates. By the year 2025, it is expected that these new materials will be the main staples of choice for the paper and packaging industries. 

The nano cellulous revolution 

Nano-cellulose is a cellulose based material. It is made up of tiny (nano) sized fibrils of cellulose that have a high length to width ratio. In simple language, it’s a pretend plastic – a substitute. 

Bio-nano-composites come from bio matter; basically the material that plants are comprised of. With a little more research, the advancements that will be made in this type of cellulose engineering will result in the creation of packing products that will be 100% bio-degradable. 

As far as the paper manufacturing industry is concerned the aim is to ensure that within the next 10-years no packaging products; whether they are destined for the food industry, the electronics industry, the textiles industry - in fact all consumer industries, will be packaged in new cellulose based materials. 

These materials will also feature in the packaging of pharmaceuticals and will become a part of the pharmaceuticals themselves in terms of things like control- released medications due to the human body’s ability to process cellulose. 

Nano-crystalline cellulose – produced by grade development 

Another significant step forward in recent years has been the creation of a new cellulose based material called nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC). It’s light, it’s strong, and it conducts electrical current. It’s made from wood pulp using a process referred to as grade development. 

The pulp is hydrolyzed in acid to remove any impurities. It is then separated and the crystals are concentrated into a thick paste that can then be either applied to a laminate or processed into strands creating what are called nano fibrils. Nano-fibrils are hard and tough and can be molded into various shapes and sizes. Once it has been freeze-dried, it becomes absorbent and lightweight, and is a great insulator.

The next wonder material 

Nano-crystalline cellulose has been christened as the next wonder-material and the Japanese company Pioneer Electronics will be using it in their new generation flexible electronic displays. IBM manufactures computer components from it, and reputedly, even the US army is planning to use it in the manufacture of lightweight body-armor, and because it is transparent, they will use it in ballistic quality glass. 

Not only does the grade development of wood pulp produce a material that has a strength-to-weight ratio that is 8 times superior to stainless steel, it also an incredibly cheap material too. 

A $600 billion industry by 2020 

The US National Science Foundation are forecasting that NCC will become a $600 billion industry within the next 5 years, and in order to crank-up production, the US opened its first nano-crystalline cellulose plant in 2014. It’s not as big as the NCC plant opened in Canada in 2011, which produces 1 ton of NCC per day. 

Another stunning fact about nano-crystalline cellulose is that it is naturally abundant. Being as the strands that the grade development produces are only 200 nano-meters long, it doesn’t involve using complete trees. It can be made from twigs, branches and even sawdust. It is the first new renewable form of carbon nano-tube at a fraction of the price. 

Nano-crystalline cellulose is totally eco-friendly 

It is predicted that nano-crystalline cellulose will even be used to make substitute metal as well as petroleum based plastic automobile parts. Even the human body can process cellulose safely, so products made from NCC are far less dangerous than products made from inorganic composite materials when disposed of. They are completely environmentally friendly.

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