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Report on the business ecosystem for cellulosic nanomaterials

Professor Art Ragauskas: “These efforts help advance commercialization by creating market pull for CN and enhancing CN affordability.”

By Art Ragauskas

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the June, 2016 issue of TAPPI Journal, TAPPI’s flagship research publication provided each month to members.

Translation research in cellulosic nanomaterials can be best captured by a quote of Watts Humphrey: “Innovation is the process of turning ideas into manufacturable and marketable form.” During the last decade, advances in cellulosic nanomaterials (CN) have passed many critical points in commercial evolution from laboratory studies(1) to the development of pilot
plant facilities, commercial operations, and product development (2,3) While these efforts continue to mature, researchers are addressing a number of outstanding issues, such as:
• Scaling up production and bringing down production costs by reducing capital, operating, and energy costs.
• Dewatering and drying of CN without loss of properties.
• Characterizing and enhancing physical, electronic, optical, thermal, barrier rheology, and sensor CN properties for end use applications.
• Enhancing CN compatibility with hydrophobic polymers.
• Incorporating CN into additive manufacturing protocols.
• Assessing CN impacts on health, safety, and the environment.
• Improving multiscale modeling and analytical instrumentation.
• Integrating advances in plant science genetics to optimize CN generation/properties for end use applications. 

These preceding multidisciplinary challenges are being addressed by a mixture of universities, research institutions, entrepreneurs, and equipment manufacturers, along with biotechnology, chemical, mineral, forest products, and biorefining companies. These efforts help advance commercialization by creating market pull for CN and enhancing CN affordability in order to achieve the right CN functionality at the right price. Often, these efforts are led by a single investigator or small research teams that are limited in their ability to address all of the challenges in the marketplace.

To accelerate CN commercialization, coordinated larger-scale public-private membership organizations are being pursued that will provide the vision, focus, leadership, and resources to fill information gaps and lower the risks for CN in practical applications. A number of business announcements related to commercial use of CN have already been made, including the following:

• Bloomberg reported how “Nippon Paper sets nanofiber diapers as path to boost growth”(4).
• American Process Inc. announced a “chemical-free pulping technology enhanced with nanocellulose for lightweight packaging production” (5).

• Treaty LLC “developed a patent-pending technique to extract cellulosic nanomaterials from recycled paper and cardboard.” Their first creation is called FogKicker, a biodegradable, nontoxic anti-fog coating made from CN(6).

• Mitsubishi Pencil Co. Ltd. and DKS Co. Ltd. commercialized a cellulose nanofiber (CNF) as a thickener for gel inks used for ballpoint pens(7). 

All of these developments suggest that CN could be
the next industrialized value-added sector that is based on woody resources, adding to lumber/wood composites, pulp/paper, and wood pellets and biofuels. The articles presented in the June, 2016 issue of TAPPI Journal are reflective of these challenges and commercial opportunities.

1. Pu, Y., Zhang, J.G., Elder, T., et al., “Investigation into nanocellulosics versus acacia reinforced acrylic films,” Composites, Part B 38(3): 360(2007).

2. Lindstrom, T., Aulin, C., Gimaker, M., et al., “The emergence of practical nanocellulose application for a more sustainable paper/ board industry,” IPPTA 26(1): 53(2014).

3. Miller, J., “Nanocellulose State of the Industry,” December 2015.

4. Suga, Masumi and Matsuda, Kiyotaka, “Nippon Paper sets nano-fiber diapers as path to boost growth,” Bloomberg, 26 November 2015.

5. American Process Inc., “American Process Inc. announces chemical-free pulping technology enhanced with nanocellulose for lightweight packaging production,” American Process Inc., Atlanta, GA, USA, 17 May 2016.

6. Treaty LLC, “Treaty minute pitch,” Startup Compete, 9 February 2016.

7. Matsuda, Chiho, “Cellulose nanofiber enhances writing experience,” Nikkei Technology, 11 September 2015.


Art J. Ragauskas is Professor/Governor’s Chair in Biorefining, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries, at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville,TN, USA.

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