Move over carbon fiber, here comes cellulose nanofiber

New technology could offer a cleaner, greener way to strengthen plastic

MASAHISA YUZAWA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO Competition is heating up among researchers working to develop products using cellulose nanofiber, or CNF, a strong, lightweight material derived from plants.

Since 2015, a number of products made with CNF have appeared on the market, including disposable diapers and ballpoint pens, as the stuff has moved out of the lab and into practical application. Last year, many companies, especially in the paper industry, began installing CNF production equipment. Now the “post-carbon-fiber” wonder material is attracting serious attention.

In December, an environmental products and services trade show, EcoPro 2016, was held in Tokyo. In addition to paper companies such as Oji Holdings and Nippon Paper Industries, machinery and chemical companies also had CNF exhibits. Satoshi Hirata, secretary of the Nanocellulose Forum, which designed a booth on CNF for the trade show, was surprised at the reaction, saying, “Many more people came than we anticipated.”

NATURE’S WAY CNF is made by peeling off microscopic plant fiber from wood products using machines and chemicals. It weighs only one-fifth as much as steel but is three to five times stronger. In contrast to carbon fiber, which is produced by baking acrylic fiber derived from petroleum, CNF comes from renewable resources. “It is a sustainable, natural material, so basically the raw materials will never be exhausted,” said Oji President Susumu Yajima.

Transparency is another a big advantage of CNF. It may be useful in products such as flexible displays. CNF also retains its shape well when exposed to heat, meaning it may have industrial applications.

In December, an environmental products and services trade show, EcoPro 2016, was held in Tokyo. In addition to paper companies such as Oji Holdings and Nippon Paper Industries, machinery and chemical companies also had CNF exhibits. Satoshi Hirata, secretary of the Nanocellulose Forum, which designed a booth on CNF for the trade show, was surprised at the reaction, saying, “Many more people came than we anticipated.”

NATURE’S WAY CNF is made by peeling off microscopic plant fiber from wood products using machines and chemicals. It weighs only one-fifth as much as steel but is three to five times stronger. In contrast to carbon fiber, which is produced by baking acrylic fiber derived from petroleum, CNF comes from renewable resources. “It is a sustainable, natural material, so basically the raw materials will never be exhausted,” said Oji President Susumu Yajima.

Transparency is another a big advantage of CNF. It may be useful in products such as flexible displays. CNF also retains its shape well when exposed to heat, meaning it may have industrial applications.

20170209CNFChipDiagram_article_main_image.png

Anticipating wide-ranging uses in cosmetics and food, Nippon Paper is bringing a CNF plant online in western Japan’s Shimane Prefecture this year. Oji has announced that it will begin selling a thickener made with CNF in April. The product, with 10 to 100 times the viscosity of conventional thickeners, will be sold to manufacturers of cosmetics, consumer products and paints.

CNF was first used as a strengthening resin in the plastics and rubber found in everything from cars to electronics to sneakers. Just as carbon fiber was first used in relatively simple products like fishing rods and golf clubs, making its way into cars and aircraft as the technology advanced, CNF will find more applications as manufacturers become more familiar with its properties.

http://asia.nikkei.com/magazine/20170209/Tech-Science/Move-over-carbon-fiber-here-comes-cellulose-nanofiber

 

 

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