Big Buckaroos in Tiny Town: the gold rush ahead in nanocellulose

June 2, 2016 |

BD TS 060316 nanocellulose smIf you are among the millions who have seen Captain America: Civil War, you’ll note that Ant Man is displaying the ability to shrink beyond belief, yet grew into a 100-foot tall Giant-Man for the airport battle.

It’s that way for nanocellulose, too — a material made from the largest organisms imaginable — our friends, the trees — which display astonishing Marvel-like properties when processed into nanofibrils and nanocrystals, with gigantic implications for the future of materials.

In fact, we’re downright surprised that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not, as yet, explored the properties and potential of nanocellulose technology. It may be the most important material yet invented that has eluded the grasp of Tony Stark.

Instead of Stark Industries, we find American Process right in the think of it. Just this month the company launched their GreenBox++ technology that replaces chemical pulping for production of high-strength, lightweight paper-based packaging using a chemical-free, water-based process powered by nanocellulose.

It’s the 2G version of GreenBox+ technology, which you may recall was commercially installed at Cascades’ Norampac-Cabano paper-based packaging facility in Quebec, Canada, where a sodium carbonate-based chemical process was replaced with API’s patented hot-water extraction process. With GreenBox+ technology, the facility reduces its environmental footprint and process energy costs.

The major difference in the 2G release? Nanocellulose.  According to Dr. Kim Nelson, API’s VP of Nanocellulose Technology, “We have enhanced the performance and market potential of our GreenBox+ technology with addition of a bolt-on nanocellulose processing line. Utilizing nanocellulose produced on site from pulp made from our GreenBox+ process, the strength of paper-based materials used for packaging such as corrugated medium can be significantly increased. The strength boost offered by nanocellulose makes GreenBox++ technology suitable for retrofitting both sodium carbonate and kraft pulping processes. This strength increase may also allow papermakers to lightweight packaging, or reduce the amount of material used.”

American Process also landed two US patents this month for its BioPlus nanocellulose technology. These patents cover processes for making nanocellulose as well as hydrophobic nanocellulose compositions. And, the company has just re-started its Alpena, MI biorefinery, to handle all the business.

Why all the fuss?

Nanocellulose is on the cusp of a rapid expansion phase than might give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a run for its money.

Zion Research is projecting that the nanocellulose industry, which generated revenues of $65 million in 2015, will reach $530M in 2021. That’s an annual growth rate of 30.0%, with overall between 2016 and 2021. Price? Zion is reporting $4800 per ton in 2015. In terms of volume, the global nanocellulose market stood at 13,870.0 tons in 2015, so says this research.

Not bad for progress. We reported just one year ago exactly that the market was expected to grow to $250M by 2019.

 

What can you use it for?

According to Zion, Nanofibrils have a “vast array of impending commercial applications such as composites and foams for automotive, aerospace, building construction.As well as viscous modifiers for cosmetics & oil drilling fluids, paper, packaging, paints, plastics and cement.”

Meanwhile, a competing report says that for the near-term, the hot sectors will be “cement, automotive bodies and interiors, paper and packaging coatings, paper and packaging fillers, plastic packaging and plastic films, hygiene and absorbent products, and textiles.” Down the line, think about 3D printing, too.

Who are some of the major global players?

According to this pricey report we spotted here , think Celluforce, Innventia, Kruger, Nippon Paper Group, Borregaard, and FPInnovations in addition to American Process.

A commercial-scale plant in Yreka?

Up in California’s Montrose Country north of Mount Shasta, USDA Forest Service Research & Development, the National Forest System, and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities are collaboratively working on a feasibility study for cellulose nanomaterial and micromaterial production. It’s called the Yreka Cellulose Nanomaterials Project since 2014. A pilot facility has been constructed at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin.  The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a product option that can help fund forest management activities. A high-value product would support delivered timber costs sufficient to pay for harvesting and transportation costs for trees removed in forest restoration and hazardous fuel reduction operations. More on that here.

The strange world of super-strong, super-light nanocellulose

Flexible electric circuits and solar panels? Advanced biofuels? New concretes and steel-like materials? New medical implants and sutures? Drug delivery vehicles? Cosmetics? Lightweight armor? That’s just a sample of the potential apps for nanocellulose. We investigated in this report.

More about Nanocellulose and its progress

Evonik gives JeNaCell a big push in nanocellulose.

American Process nabs foundational nanocellulose patent: is the wonder-material finally, affordably here?

Hamrick Engineering granted US patent for extracting sugars and nanocellulose.

 

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