Innovation and Competitiveness from Nanocellulose
In three years, the Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies has become a global leader through its research.
The Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies, founded by VTT, the Aalto University and UPM, began operations on 1 March 2008 in Otaniemi, Espoo. The goal of the centre is to develop an industrial-scale production process for nanocellulose and to develop new uses for cellulose as a material.
The centre is a consortium of three equal partners, and is funded by both public and private investments.
Cellulose fibres are 30 micrometres wide and 2 to 3 millimetres long. They are formed of nanofibrils, the dimensions of which are about a thousandth of the dimensions of cellulose fibres. By mixing nanocellulose with various other materials, it is possible to manufacture new, light and strong compound materials which can be utilised in many industrial and consumer applications.
Large investments in research
It is the goal of the Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies to utilise the exceptional properties of nanocellulose in improving the competitiveness of existing products and developing entirely new kinds of products. The centre is able to produce different kinds of nanocellulose in a controlled manner on a laboratory scale. A comprehensive set of measurement technologies has also been developed for the characterisation of the materials produced, for example the characterisation of quality, evenness and particle size.
Some 40 researchers are involved in the operations of the Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies. According to Pia Qvintus, Technology Manager at VTT, investments are many times larger than conventional research projects.
“Because we have as many as 40 person-years available to us, with top-grade expertise, the Centre’s research has quickly reached global standards.”
Widely applicable technology
Nanocellulose can be utilised widely in different industrial fields and products. Its applications include specialty papers, paper coatings, packaging and building products. The construction, vehicle, furniture, electronics, food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries can also create added value for their products by using customised fibre materials.
One example of the effectiveness of nanocellulose is the innovation developed by the Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies in which nanotechnology is used to improve the durability of a coat of paint. The Finnish Centre for Nanocellulosic Technologies has researched the utilisation of nanocellulose as an additive in water-based polyurethane varnishes and paints. According to this research, nanocellulose improved the durability of the coat of paint, and protected paint and varnish from attrition caused by UV radiation.
Nanocellulose is also believed to have great potential in filter and membrane applications used in water and air purification. Nanocellulose can also be used to improve the strength and durability characteristics of current bio-plastics.
Utilisation of new technologies is one possibility of improving the competitiveness of the forest industry in a changing operating environment. By combining basic research, applied research, productization and business competence, the partners aim to speed up the launch of new profitable products on the global market in the near future.
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