Industrial MFC production

Updated: 2012-04-17 | Print

Nanofibres from cellulose pulp have now been produced on an industrial scale at a level of 1.5 tonnes a day. The material is also referred to as nanocellulose or microfibrillated cellulose (MFC). High strength and the ability to form films are two of the properties that have made this material a viable alternative to petroleum-based products. The research and industrial scale trials have been performed by scientists from the Paper and Fibre Research Institute (PFI) in Norway together with colleagues from Södra Cell, Norske Skog and SPX Flow Technology.

There has been considerable interest in nanofibres made from cellulose for some time due to the wide range of potential areas of application. These include replacement for plastics, reinforcement of composite materials, boosting paper properties and as barrier material in packaging – and the important fact that the material is environmentally friendly. It is renewable, biocompatible and degradable.

However, it has faced several barriers concerning commercial utilization; the production process demanded too much energy, it is complicated and difficult to upscale. This led to further development work and as a result it has been demonstrated for the first time that the material can be produced on an industrial scale. Moreover, this is at a price that makes it feasible for use in commodity products such as paper, packaging and paint. The energy consumption was very low, as the trials required only 1600 kWh/tonne, without other unit operations that increase the cost. This level of energy consumption is the same as the energy needed for the production of fibres for newsprint. Hence, there is now a basis for niche applications in small volumes and for products where large volumes are needed.

An important barrier for the commercial utilization of nanocellulose has been removed, but research is still needed to obtain an optimal and stable production process. Extensive research on the production and applications for this material is ongoing in several places around the world, and it is expected that it will be used in many products within the next few years.

Contact: Kristin Syverud