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Transparent CNF has wide range of applications

For one Japanese pulp and paper company, the future of cellulose nanofiber material is clear… as in, literally transparent. As reported recently by Nikkei Asian Review, in 2017 Oji Holdings will begin mass production of a lightweight, plant-derived cellulose nanofiber (CNF) material that can replace carbon fiber in a range of applications, including auto manufacturing, aircraft, and organic light-emitting diode displays. The material will be produced as a thin sheet that Oji claims “has high transparency equivalent to glass, regardless of wood pulp materials.”

NAR reports that Oji’s new equipment will be capable of producing 250,000 sq. m/yr of transparent sheet, starting in the second half of 2017. The location of the new manufacturing facility has not been disclosed. Oji will spend 2 billion yen (US$17.2 million) on modifications to accommodate CNF production.

According to the company, the technology creates roll sheets by nanofibrillating pulp fibers to 3 to 4 nanometers. The transparent material can be rolled, cut, and folded. “Oji has been developing new applications of roll sheets of CNF by providing small amount samples since 2013,” the company stated in a press release about the new manufacturing capability. “As a result of increasing demand for that from many fields, we decided to install the new facility to provide more samples and establish a process for mass production.”

NAR reports that Oji already makes sample quantities of CNF at its Tokyo research center. Customers including automotive and appliance makers use the samples to develop lightweight materials as possible replacements for steel and glass; it also shows potential use in helping make smartphones lighter and thinner.

Oji is also working to develop a CNF-based thickener (branded as Aurovisco) that takes advantage of the ability to produce CNF that is exceptionally strong and transparent. According to Oji, the product will offer “ten to a hundred times higher viscosity than other naturally derived thickeners.”

NAR reports that the cellulose nanofiber market is expected to reach 1 trillion yen in 2030, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. “Cellulose nanofiber is already made by paper companies and research institutions in Northern Europe and the U.S. But performance, production methods, and even the definition of the material all vary,” states the NAR story. “The Japanese are ahead in cultivating commercial applications, and the breadth of the nation’s manufacturing sector is seen giving them an advantage in developing materials for parts as well.”

At the 2016 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials in Grenoble, France, Go Banzashi of Oji Holdings Corporation made a presentation about the company’s unique CNF manufacturing process titled “Complete nanofibrillation of cellulose prepared by phosphoric acid esterification.”

The 2017 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials will be held June 5-8 in Montreal. To learn more, visit http://conference.tappinano.org

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