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Publication - Professor Steve Eichhorn

    New horizons for cellulose nanotechnology


    Eichhorn, SJ, Rahatekar, SS, Vignolini, S & Windle, AH, 2018, ‘New horizons for cellulose nanotechnology’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol 376.


    Cellulose is one of the world's primary natural resources, and is the most used material in the world. More than 20 times the volume of steel is used on an annual basis, and since ancient times cellulose, in the form of timber, paper and clothing, has underpinned the development of society. Despite its common use throughout human history, only in recent years has the true potential of cellulose as a high-end functional and sustainable material been realized, especially in the form of nanofibrous materials [1,2]. Natural cellulose is found in every plant as a hierarchical material. Within the trunk of the tree and its branches and roots, there are fibre vessel elements, which in the living tissues transport nutrients and water. In processes such as papermaking, these vessel elements are extracted and we typically then call them ‘fibres’. In fact, such fibres possess a layered structure of fibrils, embedded in other plant polysaccharides, and binding materials such as hemicelluloses, lignin, pectins and waxes. These fibrils, or cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs), can be extracted from the cell walls of the fibres through mechanical and/or chemical/enzymatic approaches. They represent not only a truly sustainable resource but also a functional material.Like many other biopolymers, celluloses possess a semicrystalline structure. This semicrystalline structure is susceptible to some degree to hydrolysis using strong acids, the so-called ‘amorphous’ regions being more susceptible than the crystalline ones [3,4]. This hydrolysis process liberates so-called ‘cellulose nanocrystals’ (CNCs), a colloidal form of cellulose stabilized by negative surface charge due to the presence of sulfate half-ester groups (if sulfuric acid is used) [4,5]. Such colloidal CNCs are interesting from an industrial perspective because they can be dispersed in water. As cellulose is known to be recalcitrant to a …

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