Utilizing the Whole Tree

Problem │ The accumulation of non-degradable plastic waste is a growing concern. Due to its vast abundance and renewability, lignocellulosic materials are being considered as the most promising replacement to petroleum-based polymers. Especially, cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) have seen great potential across a variety of fields: from oil recovery to nanofiller-reinforced nanocomposites and packaging materials, to biomedical applications. However, the production of CNCs is challenging (achieves only low yields), resource intensive (requires excessive washing steps), and harmful to the environment (relies heavily on caustic chemicals and non-recyclable catalysts). Solution │ Now Professor Feng Jiang and his team at the Sustainable Functional Materials Lab of The University of British Columbia have developed a green technology that can produce lignin-containing cellulose nanocrystals (LCNCs) from untreated or least treated woody biomass, such as e.g. thermomechanical pulp (TMP) in high yields. This technological breakthrough uses a ternary deep eutectic solvent followed by a mild mechanical disintegration process to produce LCNCs with high lignin content (≤ 50%) and high surface carboxyl content (0.43 mmol/g) in high yields at moderate temperatures (60–100°C) in under 4 hours. The LCNCs obtained from this process are about 6 x 3 nm in size and of high thermal stability (Tmax 358°C). Due to these properties, the produced LCNCs will be valuable for a variety of applications, ranging from thermal insulation to enhanced oil recovery, cement additives, and packaging materials. Austin Lee austin.lee@uilo.ubc.ca (+1) 604-822-7477

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