In 2013, FPInnovations launched a three-year project on cellulose filaments (CFs) with the newly formed Kruger Biomaterials Inc., aimed at developing new materials from wood fibre and using them in various traditional and non-traditional applications. Three years later, it’s time to take stock… and the results are nothing short of game-changing!
CFs, a green material extracted from wood pulp fibres, have unique properties that make them an exceptional reinforcing agent for a wide variety of products. CFs are obtained by mechanical peeling, a process that does not require the use of chemicals or enzymes and does not produce effluents, making them environmentally friendly and well-suited for the Canadian forest industry.
“Cellulose filaments obtained through this process have unique features, including high aspect ratio, high surface area, and high bonding potential,” explains Norayr Gurnagul, Research Leader in FPInnovations’ Advanced Fibre Composites group. “They have been shown to be excellent strengthening agents, bringing significant improvement in the wet-web and dry strength of tissue, towel, and printing, writing, and specialty paper grades.”
A team composed of employees from FPInnovations and Kruger Biomaterials, coupled with a major investment by Kruger Inc., resulted in the design, construction, and start-up of a demonstration plant in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. “Collaboration between team members was absolutely seamless,” states Michelle Ricard, Project Leader. “All members worked tirelessly to achieve the six-month project delivery and the project results speak for themselves.” Since its launch in June 2014, the plant shifted from a one-tonne-per-week production capacity to a five-tonne-per-day production line of high-quality CFs with a capacity to produce up to 15 tonnes per day.
CF applications in the pulp and paper industry
The production of large amounts of CFs allowed for many laboratory and pilot trials aimed at validating the potential of CFs in improving properties of paper products. As an example, research showed that the addition of CFs in the paper furnish increases paper strength uniformity, and reduces paper and tissue linting and dusting. Researchers are now working on minimizing the CF dosage required to achieve these benefits.
Laboratory studies have also been completed to optimize furnish composition for a flexible packaging grade using CFs as a reinforcing agent. Preliminary tests showed that the products met the main criteria of the grade, and paper will soon be converted in a commercial converting plant.
Next steps: going further with green chemistry
The results achieved in the first phase of the CF development exceeded FPInnovations’ and Kruger Biomaterials’ expectations. Now that this first stage is complete, both organizations are looking to stay ahead of global competition and the research team is moving forward with new approaches to build on these achievements. The next goals involve optimizing specific applications and developing application pipelines in other industry sectors that would allow for accelerating the introduction of targeted technologies showing a high level of readiness.
It is estimated that more than 90% of pulp and paper mill revenues still come from traditional products. Through collaborations, such as with Kruger Biomaterials, FPInnovations is hoping to change this by helping the industry take advantage of CFs and other nanomaterials, and by targeting increased revenue into traditional and non-traditional sectors.
For more information, please contact Norayr Gurnagul, Research Leader of FPInnovations’ Advanced Fibre Products group.
This article was originally published in the 2016-2017 IMPACT magazine.