Alberta supports nanocellulose and biochar projects

Pulp & Paper Canada
June 18, 2013
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Two crystalline nanocellulose projects are among the six new bioindustrial projects receiving funding from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions through its Bioindustrial Research and Innovation Program 2012-13.

Representing more than $4.3 million in total project costs, six applied research projects, were selected to receive a combined total of more than $1.3 million from AI Bio over 2013-16. The six projects plan to use renewable wood or agricultural fibre in ways that may lead to a variety of innovative products or processes including bioplastics for automotive, packaging, or biomedical industries, and biochar for removal of contaminants from oil tailings water.

Dr. David Mitlin's team aims to develop a prototype of inexpensive biochar-based carbon that effectively removes naphthenic acids and total organic carbon from SAGD and oil tailings water. Biochar-based carbon, which is a type of activated carbon, holds promise due its abundance and geographic proximity to the tailings operations. The two key factors that prevent wide-scale utilization of activated carbon is its unacceptably high cost and narrow selectivity of types of contaminants adsorbed. The new biochar-based carbon will be low cost and custom-designed with surface functionality and porosity for high effectiveness in oil tailings water contaminant removal.

In another applied research project receiving AI Bio funding, Dr. Yaman Boluk's team will develop a technology that allows incorporation of high performance crystalline nanocellulose (CNC) particles into polyolefins by in-situ polymerization process. In this way the nanocellulose will disperse homogeneously in polyolefins without lumping and open a pathway for creating polyolefin nanocomposite products. CNC is wood fibre processed into nanoscale rod-shaped particles. Polyolefins such as polyethylenes are petrochemical products used in plastic wrap, bottles, automotive parts, pressure pipes, oil tanks and drums. This type of bioplastic product has potential to be lightweight, very strong, non-toxic, easily recyclable and would be of great value to the automotive, packaging, and biomedical industries.

Funding was also provided for Dr. Cagri Ayranci's team, which aims to develop a lightweight composite sandwich structure using nanocrystalline cellulose-reinforced polystyrene foam core that is permanently bonded between two stiff laminae. This green building product will be high strength, low cost, and can be assembled without need for welding. It is expected to be of interest to the construction industry for many uses beyond the traditional composite panels and boards, as well as having value for the automotive and aerospace industries.

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