Nanocellulose Research Review: Commercial update Sept. 2017

Ole Martin Kristiansen | September 5, 2017

The field of nanocellulose, fibrils of cellulose and microfibrillated cellulose is moving rapidly in the direction of full commercialization. Still, there are many undescribed application areas that are appearing, with higher and lower levels of innovation. In this week’s review, I am covering two very interesting stories; the increased interest from Japanese motor industry in utilizing the nanocellulose as components for their vehicles, and 3D printing of a nanocellulose alginate product.

Japanese motor makers are increasing their belief in nanocellulose

According to Reuters, the Japanese motor industry and researches from the Kyoto University are looking into creating nanocellulose containing components for motor vehicles . They claim that the product is five times stronger than steel, and at the same time giving as much as a five times weight reduction. This tells us, the nanocellulose is moving into a complex world, historically owned by steel and aluminium. In the latter years, other types of lightweight composites has been introduced, both for endurance, but also for decreasing weight in order to reduce emissions or facilitate the introduction for better performing electric cars (for example, distance).

The scientists think that it will take a long time to introduce this concept, and that the majority of motor producers will go with the more common choices in the first decade or so. The costs of producing is in my view frequently related to the matureness of the technology. The nanocellulose and MFC technology are fairly new fields, with several proprietary platforms. The technology readiness level (TRL) for a fair amount of these are low, thus giving pilot scale or early commercial stage plants globally. This means the exploiters of these technologies must find areas where they can economically defend the cost/performance case already now, or run projects with time frames that are longer (often 5-10 years ahead). It is very satisfying to see that there are more and more industrial players emerging in the field of nanocellulose and MFC, probably increasing the potential to supply material to a larger number of industries in the future.

Lightweight is also a current issue for many producers of motor vehicles. Masanori Matsushiro, the project manager for body design for Toyota, was quoted on “Lightweighting is a constant issue for us”. Linking the previously mentioned functionalities in use (like reached distance or weight) needs to be combined with materials that makes sense in a cost effective manner. Both Denso Corp and Daikyo Nishikawa are working on combining plastics with nanocellulose.

It will be very exciting to follow this field going forward, and see if we can find an increasing number of nanocellulosic components in motor vehicles and car parts in general. Are you increasingly interested in what nanocellulose, fibrils of cellulose and microfibrillated cellulose can do for a better performing car in the future? Read our post on battery performance.

3D printing can solve organ transplant shortage?

The Irish Times presented an article on August 3rd 2017, where they discuss the option to 3D-print organs from nanocellulose alginate. According to the news page, Erik Gatenholm and his colleagues at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, are developing this method, utilizing extracts from seaweed. They call the product Cellink. They are creating an ink that can be 3D-printed to cartilages and other types of organs. Utilizing virtual programs, designing the organs, the conventional 3D-printer does the rest of the job.

There are more than Gatenholm working on these types of projects. The French giants L'Oreal are partnering up with Oganovo (US) since 2015, aiming for creating synthetic skin. They are also working closely with the French-based company Poeitis, according to the Irish Times. This project will focus more on producing synthetic hair follicles. It is for sure a research field increasing in size, and the nanocellulose as well as MFC may play an interesting part in this going forward.

Further reading

We’ve earlier talked about strength as one of the cellulose fiber’s many great properties, which both of these topics utilizes. Read more on how Exilva can strengthen your product here – and keep on innovate. And don’t forget: if you want to know more about 3D-printing and nanocellulosic materials or MFC, we have written this magnificent blog post.

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Written by:

Ole Martin Kristiansen

Ole Martin is the Marketing Manager of Exilva in Borregaard. He holds a bachelor's degree in Media Management and has been with the company since 2017.