Nanocellulose market development in Japan

Pål Romberg | February 21, 2017

Japanese companies have worked with the cellulose nanofibers (CNF) for more than 20 years and are in the forefront when it comes to technology and application development. You could really say that nanocellulose is big in Japan. In this article we bring you the latest on the market development. 

The majority of the development has concentrated on chemically modified fibrils. The forerunners in developing these have been Nippon Paper and OJI. However, also natural fibrils, meaning not chemically modified, are produced in Japan. Daio Paper and Chuetsu are perhaps the most important players within this area.

Production facilities in Japan

A nano-cellulose forum has been established in Japan with the focus on strengthening the cooperation between industry, universities and the government. Four ministries, more than 20 local government bodies, 200 companies and all the major universities are cooperating to try to maximize the development in the field. This has been a successful model as large companies like Mitshubishi and Toppan Printing have already commercialized products containing CNF, but only in niche products as there are little commercial capacity available. However, this is about to change as Nippon Paper is building their first commercial plant with a capacity of 500 tons TEMPO ((2,2,6,6-Tetramethylpiperidin-1-yl)oxyl) oxidized CNF. Parts of this capacity will be used internally as a deodorizer and odor reducer (antimicrobial) in adult diapers. We wrote a another blog post on adult diapers, you can find it here.

In addition to Nippon Paper, there are at least another 8-10 pilot facilities in Japan with capacities ranging from a few tons up to 100 tons. Chuetsu paper is the next company that has announced a commercial plant of 3-400 tons to be completed in 2017.

Applications of nano-cellulose in Japan

Japan is very active both in researching and patenting inventions based on nanocellulose. Some of the recent patent applications comprises plastic composites, ion exchange membranes, filters, batteries, metal oxides, pigment dispersion, rubber, resin enhancement, films and sheets, oil field chemicals and coatings, showing that the scope of the research and development is very wide.

Daio Paper has developed a CNF sheet material comprising up to 80% by weight of the nanofibers and compared it with the performance of an unidentified commodity plastic. A sheet with 80% CNF content and a thickness of 0.1 to 0.5 mm exhibited around five times the flexural modulus (13 to 17 GPa) at 23 ⁰C and lost less strength at high temperatures. Tensile strength is around five-fold (100 to 150 MPa) at 23 ⁰C. 2)

Recent breakthroughs have been reported on plastic composites containing CNF, increasing tensile strength and flexural modulus making it possible to increase quality and reduce weight in car parts. The NEDO project has developed a continuous process (Kyoto Process) to produce hydrophobically modified CNF and incorporate it in the most used plastic resins in auto parts. A pilot plant starting from cellulose going all the way to injection molding was opened up in march 2016. 1)

Regarding the cost of the materials, it is reported that the Japanese producers have set a short term target (2020) to reach a manufacturing cost of $10 per kilo CNF and a long term target (2030) below $5 per kilo. Analysts from the government expects that the Japanese market for cellulose nanofibers could reach 1 trillion yen ($8 billion) by 2030. 2)

You are welcome to download our free eBook on MFC if you want to know more about its characteristics and potential application areas.

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1) Dr. Hiroyuki Yano; Development of the continuous production process “Kyoto Process” of CNF reinforced thermos plastics. Nanocellulose Summit, December 2016, Tokyo
2) Stephen Moore; What we missed in 2016: The other CNF (cellulose nanofibers, that is). Plastics today, December 19, 2016

Written by:

Pål Romberg