Challenges and Opportunities in the Scale-up of Cellulose Nanofibril Production

D.J. Gardner
University of Maine, US

Keywords: nanocellulose


Technologies to produce cellulose nanofibrils via either mechanical means (CNF) or chemical means (cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)) have improved dramatically over recent years and a limited number of companies and research labs can produce cellulose nanofibrils on the pilot-scale in significant quantities. The mass production of CNF, however, is not the only obstacle in research and development using nanoscale cellulose in material applications. A big challenge in the utilization of cellulose nanofibrils is agglomeration of the fibrils during processing that occurs because of hydrogen bonding among polymer chains when in close proximity to each other. The impact of agglomeration affects the size distribution of cellulose fibrils, resulting in loss of nanoscale material property effects. Cellulose nanofibrils are typically produced as aqueous suspensions varying from 0.1 to 10 weight percent nanofibrils in water. Obtaining sufficient amounts of dry cellulose nanofibrils in a non-agglomerated condition is challenging. The particular CNF manufacturing process can impact fibril morphology as well as the manufacturing process used to remove water from the CNF suspensions. The overall goal of current research is to develop robust, industrially relevant scalable drying process methodologies for the production of cellulose nanofibrils for application in nanocomposites and related materials.