Advanced flexible material made of nanocellulose

May 16, 2023

(Nanowerk Highlights) Nanocellulose, a special type of cellulose processed to make nanoscale fibers, is a significant advance in the materials industry. These fibers have outstanding properties such as high strength, low weight, excellent biocompatibility and efficient water retention, which make them outstanding candidates for various applications. The production of nanocellulose is a complex process that involves the mechanical or chemical breakdown of cellulose fibers, originating from a variety of sources including wood, agricultural wastes, and bacteria, into individual nanofibrils.

This nanoscale fiber exhibits exceptional strength, even when very thin, making it suitable for applications where strength and lightness are critical. In particular, industries focused on electronics and energy storage could benefit greatly from these properties. Furthermore, the low weight of nanocellulose fibers makes them an ideal choice for applications where weight is a major concern, such as wearable electronic devices and implantable medical devices.

The biocompatibility of nanocellulose signifies its safety when in contact with living tissue. These unique characteristics make nanocellulose a promising material for various biomedical applications, such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. For example, researchers have demonstrated nanocellulose wound dressings that can reveal infections. Nanocellulose wound dressings that can reveal early signs of infection through discoloration. (Image: Olov Planthaber)

In addition, nanocellulose fibers exhibit a high affinity for water, which makes them useful for applications related to water management, including food packaging and water purification. Additionally, its excellent barrier properties against gases and liquids make it useful for applications requiring protection from environmental factors, such as food packaging and batteries. From a sustainability perspective, nanocellulose is a valuable material because it can be produced from renewable resources.

Recent reviews on Advanced Functional Materials (“ARTICLE”) comprehensively summarizes the recent advances of nanocellulose-based materials in various applications. In particular, it provides a detailed overview of recent advances in the design, fabrication and application of nanocellulose-based flexible materials – including aspects of compressibility, bending ability, folding ability, twisting and tensile strength.

The versatile properties of nanocellulose have found its way into the electronics industry, where it is used to make flexible electrodes, transistors and other electronic components. This has contributed to the development of a new wave of electronic devices, such as flexible displays, wearable electronics and implantable medical devices. In the energy storage field, applications of nanocellulose have led to the development of flexible, light and thin batteries and supercapacitors, which outperform their traditional counterparts. Such innovation carries the potential to fundamentally change the way energy storage is understood and managed. An overview of the use of nanocellulose as a building block for making flexible materials in various shapes, and its potential applications in various fields An overview of the use of nanocellulose as a building block for making flexible materials in various shapes, and its potential applications in various fields. (Reprinted with permission from Wiley-VCH Verlag) (click on image to enlarge)

The biomedical applications of nanocellulose are very promising. Nanocellulose-based films and membranes have been developed which can be used to repair damaged tissues and organs. In particular, these materials are being investigated for their potential use in drug delivery and tissue engineering.

Despite the impressive range of applications and advantages, the development of nanocellulose-based flexible materials is still in its infancy. There are significant challenges that need to be overcome before this material can be widely adopted. In particular, nanocellulose is currently relatively expensive to produce, which is a significant barrier to its widespread adoption. Production scalability is another major challenge, as current production methods are not equipped to meet the demands of large-scale production. In addition, the stability of nanocellulose is a concern, as it is a very sensitive material which can be degraded easily. This poses a major challenge for the development of durable and long-lasting nanocellulose-based materials.

Various efforts continue to be made to overcome these challenges. Current research is focused on developing more efficient and cost-effective methods for producing nanocellulose. Additionally, researchers are working on methods to increase nanocellulose production to meet the demand for large-scale production. Other efforts are directed at finding ways to stabilize nanocellulose, to make it more durable and long lasting.

Despite these hurdles, the potential for nanocellulose-based flexible materials is enormous. With continued research and development, nanocellulose has the potential to revolutionize a variety of industries, including electronics, energy storage and biomedical devices. This innovative material offers a myriad of possibilities for the future of flexible materials.

One of the promising arenas of nanocellulose is in the electronics industry. The strength and low weight of nanocellulose fibers make them ideal for making flexible electronic components, such as electrodes and transistors. When integrated into electronic devices, these components can lead to the development of flexible displays, wearable electronics, and even implantable medical devices that can revolutionize the way we interact with technology.

In proof-of-concept work, the researchers have demonstrated semiconducting nanocellulose paper and conductive nanopaper from nanocellulose and silver nanowires that can be used for flexible electronics and solar cells. portable and foldable solar cells Foldable, lightweight, transparent portable solar cell based on conductive cellulose nano fiber paper. (Image: CC-BY Macmillan Publishers Ltd)

Another significant area where nanocellulose shows enormous potential is energy storage. Lighter, thinner and more flexible than traditional energy storage devices, nanocellulose and supercapacitor based batteries have the potential to redefine energy storage. These advanced energy storage devices can open up new possibilities in sectors ranging from consumer electronics to electric vehicles, and can even contribute to the more efficient utilization of renewable energy sources.

In the biomedical field, nanocellulose is finding applications in a variety of innovative ways. Due to its excellent biocompatibility, it can be used to make films and membranes that help repair damaged tissues and organs. These materials are also being explored for potential in drug delivery systems and tissue engineering, offering new avenues in medical treatment and recovery processes.

Nanocellulose also has applications in food packaging, water purification, construction, transportation and aerospace. For example, its high water retention and excellent barrier properties make it useful for creating more efficient and sustainable food packaging. For example, researchers have created a manufacturing process using cellulose nanocrystals as an advanced barrier coating for food packaging.

In water purification, nanocellulose can serve as a filter material to remove pollutants, potentially improving drinking water quality and reducing the risk of waterborne diseases. Their high strength and low weight can also contribute to more durable and fuel-efficient tire constructions in transportation, as well as lighter and stronger parts in the aerospace industry.

While the potential applications of nanocellulose are vast, there are still significant challenges to be overcome. Production costs, production scalability, and nanocellulose stability are major issues that need to be addressed. Currently, the production of nanocellulose is relatively expensive, being a major barrier to its widespread adoption. Methods for producing nanocellulose are also not yet scalable to meet the demand for large-scale production. In addition, nanocellulose is a very sensitive material that can be easily degraded, posing a challenge for the development of durable and long-lasting nanocellulose-based materials.

Despite these challenges, the potential of nanocellulose is undeniable. With continued research and development, new and more efficient methods for producing nanocellulose are being explored. This includes efforts to make production processes more cost-effective, scalable, and capable of producing more durable and stable nanocellulose. When these challenges are overcome, the future of nanocellulose in industrial materials looks promising. Its potential to revolutionize sectors ranging from electronics to biomedical devices means that nanocellulose-based flexible materials could soon become a mainstay in our lives and work.

Michael Berger

– Michael is the author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: A Small Future And
Nanoengineering: Skills and Tools for Making Technology Invisible
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