Medical applications, packaging materials, materials for lightweight vehicles and water filters are some examples of areas where bionano composites can be used.
The composites developed by Lulea researchers are made of cellulose fibers that are broken down to nano scale and mixed with plastic. Cellulose is the main component of plant cell walls and is the most abundant organic substance in nature.
Lulea researchers are experimenting with different types of cellulose fibers. One example is carrot residues. Carrot material is transformed to nano level much faster than eg birch pulp, another material that contains cellulose fibers.
– Large areas of plastic is floating in the oceans and even around our coast. The plastic end up in our food and in our bodies. It only takes a small amount of nano-cellulose to reinforce plastics and availability of materials are very good. At the same time the paper industry is very interested in what we do, says researcher Yvonne Aitomäki, Luleå University.
With ultrafine milling the cellulose is broken down and mixed with water to a liquid nanofiber solution mixed with plastic. To get the plastic to get integrated in the cellulose solution the nano-cellulose is dried in various ways.
To minimize the energy consumption in the process of breaking down the cellulose fibers is an important task for the researchers. Using light the particle size is measured on-line. The method makes it possible to quickly be able to see when the particle size is right so that the process can be interrupted in order to reduce energy consumption.
– The next step is to develop nano-cellulose in an efficient manner. The process must be faster, easier, and be done with minimal energy consumption for the industry to manufacture the material on a large scale, says Yvonne Aitomäki.