Nav: Home

Nanocellulose in medicine and green manufacturing

November 07, 2016

What if you could take one of the most abundant natural materials on earth and harness its strength to lighten the heaviest of objects, to replace synthetic materials, or use it in scaffolding to grow bone, in a fast-growing area of science in oral health care?

This all might be possible with cellulose nanocrystals, the molecular matter of all plant life. As industrial filler material, they can be blended with plastics and other synthetics. They are as strong as steel, tough as glass, lightweight, and green.

"Plastics are currently reinforced with fillers made of steel, carbon, Kevlar, or glass. There is an increasing demand in manufacturing for sustainable materials that are lightweight and strong to replace these fillers," said Douglas M. Fox, associate professor of chemistry at American University.

"Cellulose nanocrystals are an environmentally friendly filler. If there comes a time that they're used widely in manufacturing, cellulose nanocrystals will lessen the weight of materials, which will reduce energy."

Fox has submitted a patent for his work with cellulose nanocrystals, which involves a simple, scalable method to improve their performance. Published results of his method can be found in the chemistry journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. Fox's method could be used as a biomaterial and for applications in transportation, infrastructure and wind turbines.

The power of cellulose

Cellulose gives stems, leaves and other organic material in the natural world their strength. That strength already has been harnessed for use in many commercial materials. At the nano-level, cellulose fibers can be broken down into tiny crystals, particles smaller than ten millionths of a meter. Deriving cellulose from natural sources such as wood, tunicate (ocean-dwelling sea cucumbers) and certain kinds of bacteria, researchers prepare crystals of different sizes and strengths.

For all of the industry potential, hurdles abound. As nanocellulose disperses within plastic, scientists must find the sweet spot: the right amount of nanoparticle-matrix interaction that yields the strongest, lightest property. Fox overcame four main barriers by altering the surface chemistry of nanocrystals with a simple process of ion exchange. Ion exchange reduces water absorption (cellulose composites lose their strength if they absorb water); increases the temperature at which the nanocrystals decompose (needed to blend with plastics); reduces clumping; and improves re-dispersal after the crystals dry.

Cell growth

Cellulose nanocrystals as a biomaterial is yet another commercial prospect. In dental regenerative medicine, restoring sufficient bone volume is needed to support a patient's teeth or dental implants. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, through an agreement with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health, are looking for an improved clinical approach that would regrow a patient's bone. When researchers experimented with Fox's modified nanocrystals, they were able to disperse the nanocrystals in scaffolds for dental regenerative medicine purposes.

"When we cultivated cells on the cellulose nanocrystal-based scaffolds, preliminary results showed remarkable potential of the scaffolds for both their mechanical properties and the biological response. This suggests that scaffolds with appropriate cellulose nanocrystal concentrations are a promising approach for bone regeneration," said Martin Chiang, team leader for NIST's Biomaterials for Oral Health Project.

Another collaboration Fox has is with Georgia Institute of Technology and Owens Corning, a company specializing in fiberglass insulation and composites, to research the benefits to replace glass-reinforced plastic used in airplanes, cars and wind turbines. He also is working with Vireo Advisors and NIST to characterize the health and safety of cellulose nanocrystals and nanofibers.

"As we continue to show these nanomaterials are safe, and make it easier to disperse them into a variety of materials, we get closer to utilizing nature's chemically resistant, strong, and most abundant polymer in everyday products," Fox said.
-end-


American University

Related Nanocrystals Articles:

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies
Javier Vela, scientist at the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, believes improvements in computer processors, TV displays and solar cells will come from scientific advancements in the synthesis of low-dimensional nanomaterials.
Researchers demonstrate spin effects in solution-based nanocrystals
Wet-chemically produced nanocrystals are becoming more and more powerful. Now a research group around Dr.
Plasmon-powered upconversion nanocrystals for enhanced bioimaging and polarized emission
Rare-earth-doped nanocrystals have become sought-after materials for cellular bioprobes because of their long emission lifetimes and low cytotoxicity.
Researchers create first significant examples of optical crystallography for nanomaterials
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a novel way to determine crystal type based on optics -- by identifying the unique ways in which these crystals absorb light.
Direct determination of bandgap energy of single cesium lead bromide nanocrystals
An international research group determined directly the relation between the bandgap energy of single cesium lead bromide nanocrystals and their size and shape.
Nanocellulose in medicine and green manufacturing
American University professor develops method to improve functionality of nanocellulose.
Nanoscale confinement leads to new all-inorganic perovskite with exceptional solar cell properties
Scientists with the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory for the first time discovered how to make perovskite solar cells out of quantum dots and used the new material to convert sunlight to electricity with 10.77 percent efficiency.
Wi-fi from lasers
New fabrication of white light makes data transfer up to 20x faster.
Solar cells for greener and safer energies
ICFO researchers report on low-temperature, solution-processed, environmentally friendly inorganic solar cells made with Earth-abundant materials capable of operating with a power conversion of 6.3 percent.
Novel capping strategy improves stability of perovskite nanocrystals
Perovskite materials have shown great promise for use in next-generation solar cells and LEDs, but their instability remains a critical limitation.

Related Nanocrystals Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...