Cellulose, the most naturally abundant biopolymer in the world,
provides an attractive and renewable resource for research and commercialisation.
Dr. Rob English, Dr. Rhodri Williams
Cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) and cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) have the potential for incorporation into a wide array of commercially viable products, from structural composites like concrete and plastics to biomedical and food applications. The desirable qualities of cellulose however, in terms of strength and structure, also means the derivation of usable nanocellulose substrates from raw pulp for useful applications can be energy consuming and expensive. A research team at Edinburgh Napier University, led by Professor Rob English and Dr Rhodri Williams, in partnership with global pulp & paper company Sappi, have made a breakthrough in this field by developing a low cost, low energy patented process for nanocellulose production. In addition, the process, which uniquely employs a cellulose swelling agent, is more environmentally sound with much reduced waste water streams compared to existing nanocellulose production processes.
From the initial concept in early 2012, the cellulose swelling process has since had European patents granted and significant investment by Sappi has seen the fast track construction of a pilot-scale plant due for completion in 2016. The prospect of large scale manufacture of sustainable and exploitable nanomaterial is estimated within 3-5 years, enabling Edinburgh Napier University and Sappi to fully capitalise on what is proposed to be a 35 million tonnes per annum market world-wide for nanocellulose by the 2020s.