Nano-Reinforced Polymer Could Reduce Carbon Footprint

22 February 2011

Using a processing method licensed from NRC, Nova Scotia biotech firm Bio Vision Technology Inc. is now supplying a high-grade nanocrystalline cellulose to research institutions and companies that are exploring high-value applications for this material.

Nanocrystalline cellulose, or NCC, can be used as a performance enhancer in everything from automotive panels and aircraft parts to medical products.

""Bio Vision is interested in developing new bioproducts to replace or supplement petrochemical supplies,"" says Stephen Allen, Vice-President of Technology. ""By replacing just two percent of the polymers that are now made from petrochemicals, we could significantly reduce our carbon footprint.""

Another potential benefit is that NCC offers a way of harnessing the waste products from agriculture and forestry.

Nanocrystalline cellulose is a fundamental building block of cellulose, the most abundant organic polymer on earth. Cellulose contains both crystalline and non-crystalline (amorphous) regions NCC is obtained by chemically removing the amorphous cellulose, leaving behind tiny, nano-scale needles.

Simplifying the production process

The first methods that were developed for extracting NCC used sulphuric acid to dissolve amorphous cellulose. However, this approach is costly, less environmentally friendly and difficult to scale up, so scientists at the NRC Biotechnology Research Institute (NRC-BRI) in Montral sought to simplify the production process. The result: a single-step procedure that uses an oxidizer to produce a higher quality fibre called ""carboxylated NCC.""

""NRC's approach is less expensive, cleaner, simpler and more amenable to scale up,"" says Allen. ""What's more, the final product is more uniform each fibre is about 150 nanometres long and 5 nanometres wide and therefore better suited for industrial applications.""

""Carboxylated NCC is also easier to work with than the NCC made using sulphuric acid because it provides a chemical handle that you can use to attach other chemicals in order to produce tailor-made NCC suitable for various applications as a performance enhancer.""

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