The Journal Nature Features FPL Researcher

Junyong (J.Y.) Zhu, PhD
Fiber and Chemical Science Research
Research General Engineer

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong (J.Y.) Zhu was featured in the journal Nature for his contribution to the recent article, “Developing fibrillated cellulose as a sustainable technological material.”

Fibrillated cellulose has the unique characteristics and sustainable properties that could make it the building block polymer of the very near future.

A polymer is a material used in the manufacture of innumerable commercial products, from grocery bags to automobile parts to construction materials to the brush that runs through your hair every morning. Basically, a polymer is a fabrication building block. Currently, commercial polymers are sourced primarily from metal and petroleum.

Fibrillated cellulose is a biopolymer that comes from trees or any other woody plant or vegetation. Cellulose can even be recouped from agricultural crop waste. As the most abundant biopolymer on the planet, cellulose is renewable and has massive sustainability potential for a more circular economy.

When asked what was the most important take-away from his research, Zhu explained, “Cellulose is inherently renewable—it is the most abundant renewable polymer on earth. However, to achieve sustainability, the fibrillated cellulose has to be produced using sustainable approaches, which is lacking currently. But if we can sustainably produce fibrillated cellulose, if we can use fibrillated cellulose in every product we know, we can address many environmental problems the world is facing today.”  

a, Several common source materials of fibrillated cellulose. b, Schematic description of the hierarchical structure and manufacturing challenge of fibrillated cellulose. The degree of fibrillation refers to the extent to which the fibres have been longitudinally split into thinner fibrils119. The microscopy images were taken from refs. 1,120,121,122 c, Forecast of the total production value of forest-based products in the Finnish bioeconomy, used here as an example of the possible impact of new advanced materials, including those from fibrillated cellulose, which can drive the exports and gross domestic product (GDP) growth of a nation. The units are in millions of 2015 euros (2020 US$1,187 million) and the data used to draw the curve are an estimate. Data from ref. 6 with adaptations provided by authors at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland for use in communications on behalf of the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster, FinnCERES123. d, A roadmap of fibrillated cellulose technologies, including current application in paper, near-term applications in speciality packaging, bioplastics, lightweight structural materials, and energy-efficient buildings and transportation, as well as far-term technologies, including porous membranes for energy and water, optoelectronics and bio-engineering.

Read the full article in Nature and find out how compelling fibrillated cellulose’s far-term technologies potential can be: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03167-7

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