Paper products producers may soon be able to replace wood pulp with nanocellulose, a nanomaterial made of biopolymer; researchers say it could cut production costs, energy usage, carbon footprint

LOS ANGELES , February 22, 2012 () – New nanocellulose material may soon help paper products producers cut costs by serving as a replacement for wood pulp, the Royal Society of Chemistry reported on Feb. 21.

Nanocellulose is a nanomaterial made up of units of cellulose, a biopolymer, measuring between 5 and 500nm in diameter and hundreds of micrometers in length. It is currently being tested in major industrial facilities.

The new material would allow producers to increase the filler content in their paper, cutting their production costs by about 3% as china clay is less expensive, said Ali Harlin, a renewable materials professor at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Producers would also cut their paper’s carbon footprint by at least 15% and reduce the energy used to dry the paper by 30% if they incorporate the nanocellulose into their products.

Harlin said the benefits would also include a less porous and translucent paper with a higher printing quality.

Paper made with nanocellulose and consisting of 80% of filler content is as smooth and stable as the plastic substrate Mylar A, and could be a potential substrate for the growing field of printed electronics, according to Harlin.

Theodore Wegner, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s assistant director of wood, fiber, composites and research, said the nanocellulose, which is comparable to quartz in its piezoelectric properties and has photonic properties, might also be useful in batteries, bioplastics, electronics, films and coatings.

Wegner add that nanocellulose, unlike traditional nanomaterials, can be inexpensively produced in tens of millions of tonnes.

The primary source of this article is the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, United Kingdom, on Feb. 21, 2012.

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