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Nanocellulose obtained from wood is nature’s own reinforcement material

13.04.2011

Aalto University participates in the operations of the Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies

Nanocellulose is currently one of the hot research topics at Aalto University. It is made by breaking traditional cellulose fibres down into smaller and smaller fibres until they are no more than one micrometre long and 5 to 20 nanometres wide. The wood-like qualities of the cellulose disappear, and it turns into a white, even transparent, paste resembling hand cream., These properties make the products manufactured from nanocellulose light, solid and easily moulded.

The field of application for nanocellulose is extensive. In addition to the forest industry, demand for the material exists in the automotive, furniture, construction and electronics industries. Perhaps the most unexpected applications can be found in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as well as in transparent OLED screens.

Nanocellulose may also have uses as a super solid structure. Aalto University is exploring the field of biomimicry, a way of producing things that emulates natural structures, such as a shell, using nanocellulose as one of its materials. The scientific study of biomaterials on the whole is expanding. In the future, are we able to replace products made of oil-based plastics with products containing nanocellulose?

Research on nanocellulose in Aalto University expanded significantly in 2008, when Aalto University, in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and UPM, established the Finnish Centre for Nanosellulosic Technologies, which currently employs some 40 full-time researchers.

Nanocellulose is a relatively new invention, so the research carried out in Aalto University began from a very basic level, and several analysis methods as well as manufacturing technologies were developed from scratch. The university has since obtained several patents on manufacturing methods and applications. The equipment constructed in Otaniemi can be used to manufacture several kilos of consistently high-quality nanocellulose per day with low energy consumption.

The next goal is to prepare models of different products, even though basic research of the material still also requires a lot of work. The researchers must determine the basic behaviour and the optimal processing methods of nanocellulose as well as the methods that could be used to mix it with other materials. Additionally, the reactions and behaviour of the material in watery solutions require more study.

Researchers also need to ensure that both the nanoscale is accurate and the chemistry of the material is correct. Several microscopic (AMF, TEM) and spectroscopic (NMR, XPS) methods as well as chemical analyses are used for evaluating the quality of nanocellulose, but new methods are still required.

Six research groups from Aalto University are involved in the Centre for Nanosellulosic Technologies: Surface Chemistry of Forest Products (Janne Laine), Wood Chemistry (Tapani Vuorinen), Material Physics (Olli Ikkala), Polymer Technology (Jukka Seppälä) and Paper Technology (Jouni Paltakari and Thad Maloney).

Janne Laine, Professor of Surface Chemistry of Forest Products, functions as the coordinator for the research on nanocellulose at Aalto University.

More information:

Professor Janne Laine
Aalto University
School of Chemical Technology
Department of Forest Products Technology
tel. + 358 9470 24233
janne.laine [at] tkk [dot] fi

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