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Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2398
Phone: (608) 231-9200
Fax: (608) 231-9592


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Improving the Hydrolysis and Fibrillation of Wood Into Cellulose Nanomaterials

Researchers are developing improved methods for processing cellulose nanofibrils. Rob Sabo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
Researchers are developing improved methods for processing cellulose nanofibrils. Rob Sabo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
Snapshot: Cellulose nanomaterials have been receiving an increasing amount of interest from both the scientific and industrial communities because of their interesting properties, including good strength, absorbency, and optical properties, such as transparency when cast as a film. Cellulose nanofibrils traditionally have been produced by applying chemical, biological, and mechanical treatments that often require large energy costs. Forest Service scientists developed a number of strategies to improve the processing of these materials to facilitate both extraction of byproducts, such as sugar streams, and fibrillation.

Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are nanometer-sized (one billionth of a meter) fibers extracted from lignocellulosic plants, such as trees. They have numerous interesting properties and exciting applications, including super-absorbent materials, electronic components, energy harvesting devices, ink and paint stabilizers, and reinforcements and/or aids for polymers and concrete. The production of these CNFs is often energy-intensive and chemically expensive. Therefore, strategies to improve the processing efficiency of these materials is highly desirable. Forest Service scientists have adopted multiple strategies for facilitating the processing of wood pulp to CNFs. Some of these strategies include high-solids processing, developing and using thermally stable enzymes for high-temperature processing, integrating their production with coproducts, such as sugar streams, for creating fuel and chemical precursors, and other creative processing approaches, such as using postrefining enzyme treatments. For instance, commercial enzyme cocktails adequately hydrolyze cellulose fibers for creating both sugar streams and starting materials for CNFs under moderate temperatures and shear rates, but they are limited in their ability to perform at high temperatures and large shear rates at high solids loadings. The scientists recently produced thermally stable enzymes, which they found suitable for hydrolysis at 90 degrees Celsuis and solid loadings of 20 percent. With the appropriate combination of enzymes, temperature, shear, and additives, the time and energy required to perform the hydrolysis can be greatly decreased. For example, they found synergy between enzymes and surfactants that led to sufficient levels of hydrolysis in about one hour instead of days.
Princpal Investigator(s):
 Sabo, Ronald C.
 Zhu, JunYong
 Kersten, Philip J.

Fiscal Year: 2016
Highlight ID: 653
Related Research Emphasis Areas: