07
Feb

Nanofibrillated Cellulose: Bye Bye Plastic, Hello Progress

Nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) is going to change everything. That’s why Global Mana is driving support for this revolutionary material that will disrupt traditional manufacturing practices and help eliminate plastic from our waste streams. NFC is made of 100% cellulose fiber and water—and nothing else. A patented milling process converts the nanofibrillated cellulose into an industrial strength molding material that is resilient, beautiful and versatile enough for thousands of products used every day around the world. Cellulose is a long linked chain of sugar molecules that form the main component of plant cell walls. This natural polymer is what gives wood its remarkable strength, and it is the building block of any textiles or paper. NFC is completely non-toxic, biodegradable and compostable throughout its life—from harvest to manufacturing, use to disposal.¹ What more, NFC can be made from a wide range of by-products and organic waste that would otherwise sit in the landfill, including hemp, agricultural biomass, recycled denim, carpet fibers, paper, sugarcane. Imagine the scraps from your green food bin enjoying an afterlife as a lounge chair in the living room, or as the membranes of your speakers (yes, it even has impressive acoustic qualities), or the beams that support your home.² NFC “locks up” and sequesters carbon into beautiful, functional forms.

Texture of green leaf with small cells

The Technology: Turning Waste into Possibilities

Materials like hemp fibers get fed through a mill to be pulped, a process called fibrillation (or feathering). Water is added to form a paste. Once drained, the organic paste can be dyed or stained with natural plant or mineral pigments, and blended with substrates to provide additional functional properties. At this stage, NFC can be sprayed, poured, pressed or shaped into flat, curved, cylindrical or spherical forms using compression molding techniques. The resulting textures can be flat, smooth, embossed, textured, marbled, mottled and or translucent. Remarkable. The inherent optical and conductive properties also provide intelligent surfaces that can be programmed, provide UV protection, dissipate heat, repel or absorb water.³ You can now use a wide range of standard tools like lathes, mills, routers, thickeners, tumblers, sand blasters, lasers, cutters. Global Mana is inviting architects, designers, engineers, techies and artists to bring their imagination to play with NFC possibilities.

The Future of Smart and Sustainable

Nanofibrillated cellulose is being explored as a robust platform for numerous green-technology applications.⁴ NFC’s tensile strength is about 500MPa, similar to that of aluminium, so it is flexible and strong. Its stiffness is about 140–220 GPa, comparable with that of Kevlar and better than that of fiberglass, both of which are commercially used to reinforce plastics. Films made from NFC have high strength (over 200 MPa), high stiffness (around 20 GPa) and high strain (12%). Its strength/weight ratio is 8 times that of stainless steel.⁵ NFC can be lighter than cork or as dense as ebony (a hardwood dense enough to sink in water), and its increased functionality, improved mechanical properties, novel optical and conductivity properties, light weight-high performance capabilities makes NFC ideal for diverse range of applications across industries: from furniture to automotive, construction, building, storage, shipping, housewares, music, medical, electronics and consumer goods.⁶ In other words, NFC can replace hardwood, aluminum, fiberglass and plastic—the leading cause of environmental degradation. By building a demand for sustainable products we use everyday made from NFC, we are developing an industry that ushers us from the age of information into the age of awareness. With revolutionary green materials like NFC available, there is no reason why we should not be living smarter and more sustainably.

 

Notes
¹ Khalil Abdul Khalil, A.H. Bhat, A.F. Ireana Yusra, “Green Composites From Sustainable Cellulose Nanofibrils: A Review,” Carbohydrate Polymers vol. 87 no. 2 (January 15, 2012): 963–979.
² Bruce Watson, “Beyond Plastic: Creating Sustainable Materials From Recycled Waste,” The Guardian UK, Jaunary 7, 2014,http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/beyond-plastic-sustainable-materials-recycled-waste?CMP=twt_gu.
³ Khalila Abdul, Y. Davoudpoura, Nazrul Islama et al, “Production and Modification of Nanofibrillated Cellulose Using Various Mechanical Processes: A Review,” Carbohydrate Polymers vol. 99 no. 2 (January 2014): 649–665.
⁴ Claudia D. Simão, Juan S. Reparaz, Markus. R. Wagner et al, “Optical and Mechanical Properties of Nanofibrillated Cellulose: Towards a Robust Platform for Next Generation Green,” Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, technologies http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1504/1504.00230.pdf.
⁵ “Why Wood Pulp is World’s New Wonder Material,” New Scientist no. 23 (August 2012).
⁶ Susheel Kalia, Sami Boufi, Annamaria Celli et al, “Nanofibrillated Cellulose: Surface Modification and Potential Applications,” Colloid and Polymer Science (Impact Factor) vol. 1 no. 87 (January 2014): 292.

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