Unlocking Product Potential with Renewable Nanomaterials


The growth of nanomaterials research has accelerated rapidly over the past 10 years. According to industry organization StatNano, in 2018 a total of 13,046 published patent applications related to nanotechnology were filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office.

Yet nanotechnology research and development as it specifically pertains to renewable materials (e,g., nanocellulose, nano lignin, nano hemicellulose, etc.) is a much smaller and less funded subset of the world’s research into nanotechnology, according to TAPPI’s Nanotechnology Division Chair Robert J. Moon, Ph.D., materials research engineer with the USDA Forest Products Lab.

Growing interest in green chemistries is helping to change that, and cellulose—the most abundant organic compound on Earth—will be key. “Indeed, materials from bio-based resources have attracted immense research interest in recent years as a result of their very high potentials for fabricating several high-value products with low impact on the environment,” writes researcher Djalal Trache of Ecole Militaire Polytechnique, Algeria.1 “Effective utilization of various nature-based nanomaterials offers certain ecological advantages—extraordinary physicochemical properties and high performance, to name a few. However, full employment of the intrinsic properties of starting nanoscale materials necessitates continuous development of robust and versatile isolation, synthetic and processing procedures to well control assembly over a variety of length scales.”

Japan has many production facilities for a variety of nanocellulosic materials.

Another important shift in the nanocellulose research field has been away from characterizing the properties of nanocellulosic materials and toward commercialization, according to researcher Araceli García, Laboratoire de Génie des Procédés Papetiers.2 “Today, the major part of the published documents are related to the application of these nanostructures in nanocomposites (morphology, mechanical/thermal behavior), papers (coating, bulk addition), in various aqueous-based formulations (rheology modifier, food, cosmetics), or even in medical applications (scaffold, drug release),” he writes. “This difference shows a drastic change in the nanocellulose research field, and indicates a clear shift toward the industrialization and the development of new cellulose bio-based products.”


Which countries play a major role in this research? According to StatNano, the United States and countries from East Asia, including Japan and China, held the lion’s share of total applications.

Japan’s government has been significantly investing in nanotechnology since 2001 when it introduced its second Science and Technology Basic Plan (STBP), covering the years 2001-2005. In its second iteration, the plan prioritized nanotechnology and nanomaterials as one of eight national issues of interest. In the plan’s third update, covering 2006-2010, nanotechnology rose to one of four “priority research” fields. In Japan’s fourth version of the STBP, nanotechnology is considered the “foundational pathway” toward the development of the green and life innovations that are the plan’s main focus.

Similarly, the Chinese government has invested heavily in nanotechnology research through its National 863 Hi-Tech R&D Plan, which funded both central and local government projects. In 2001, the Shanghai Nanotech Promotion Center (SNPC) was launched as a hub for R&D. The growth of R&D in China has been exponential, with roughly 90 percent of the country’s nanotechnology R&D taking place in major economic centers like Beijing, Shenyang, Hangzhou, and Hong Kong.

In light of Asia’s status as a nexus of nanotechnology R&D, the TAPPI 2019 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials (TAPPI Nano) is being held in Chiba, Japan. The theme of the conference is Unlocking Product Potential with Renewable Nanomaterials. TAPPI Nano will take place June 3-7 at the Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex (visit www.conference.tappinano.org for details.)

For the first time, TAPPI Nano will co-locate with the Nanocellulose Forum (NCF). NCF was established in 2014 by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) to accelerate nanocellulose-related business throughout Japan. It includes representation from 223 different industries, 86 researchers, six ministries, and 47 local Japanese governments, and covers the entire nano supply chain—from fabricators and users to manufacturers.

According to Moon, conference submissions reflect each country’s respective intense focus on nanotechnology R&D. “We received a record-breaking 300-plus abstracts this year, with China submitting 89 and Japan 56,” says Moon. He notes that Europe—with a concentration from Scandinavian countries, primarily Finland—submitted 60 research abstracts, while the United States offered 31 submissions.

This year will have a higher focus on technical advancements in production and use of renewable nanomaterials, including those in industrial or pilot scale production or industrial applications and end uses. The conference committee’s reasoning, says Moon, is to ensure a variety of technical topics that encompass areas beyond paper and packaging applications—including automotive and other manufacturing processes, additive manufacturing, and lignin and hemicellulose nanomaterials.

“There is a growing global momentum in nanocellulose research and development, with pilot scale production in Japan and elsewhere moving rapidly toward commercial scale quantities,” remarks Moon. “The technology is now out of the lab and moving into a much grander scale. It’s exciting to see the range of new materials being developed and Japan is certainly one of the countries leading the way.”

Japan’s high level of engagement in research and the transition to production was one of the primary reasons that it was selected as the location for the 2019 conference. According to conference co-chair Alan Rudie, Ph.D., assistant director, USDA Forest Products Laboratory, Japan is a leader in taking nanomaterials from laboratory to production. “They are using nanocellulose in a variety of products right now, including shoes, pens, composites for electronic circuit boards, food additives, and automobiles, to name just a few.”

Additionally, locating the conference in Chiba, which is in the Tokyo Bay area, offered the opportunity to co-locate the annual NCF with TAPPI Nano.

At TAPPI Nano 2018, held in Madison, WI, Professor Akira Isogai of the University of Tokyo, also a co-chair of the 2019 conference and president of NCF, keynoted a presentation on the current state and future prospects of nanocellulose R&D in Japan.

As part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Japan set a CO2 emission reduction goal of 26 percent by the year 2030, mainly through the utilization of carbon-neutral nanocellulose fibers. According to Isogai, expanding the use of renewable wood biomass resources is required to establish a sustainable society and prevent global warming.

“Vascular plants consisting of pipe-like fibers in stems containing lignin,” he said, “can efficiently reduce CO2 to carbon-containing plant components, forming oxygen during growth.” And, as approximately 66 percent of Japan is covered with forests, the nation contains a wealth of underutilized wood resources.

Isogai also reported that the expected market scale for nanofiber production, as noted by METI in 2013, would reach US$10 billion per year by 2030 as part of the “next generation” volume efficiency. Present production in Japan is around 100 kilograms per day, and that is expected to rise to one ton per day by 2020, and 250 tons per day by 2030.
Among Japanese companies and institutions specifically cited by Isogai as being actively engaged in nanocellulose applications were:
• Nippon Paper (super-deodorant diapers for adults, food additives)
• Oji Holdings (electronics, cosmetics)
• Asahi Kasei Chemicals (nonwoven fabrics for composite sheets, separator for Li-ion secondary batteries)
• Chuetsu Pulp & Paper (speaker cone paper, paints)
• Daio Paper (oxygen-barrier sheets)
• Hokeutsu Corporation (air filters, composites)
• Tokushu-Tokai Paper (separator for Li-ion secondary batteries)
• DKS (thickeners, cosmetics)
• Toppan Printing (oxygen-barrier packaging, color filters)
• Kao (composites for electronic circuit boards)
• SEIKO-PMC (plastic composites)
• AIST (mechanically fibrillated agricultural wastes, plastic/CNF composites)
• Forestry and Forest Product Institute (enzyme-treated and mechanically fibrillated CNF, food additives)

In Japan, scientists and academics from a number of universities are also heavily invested in nanotechnology research, including Isogai’s own University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, where work is ongoing in the area of plastic/CNF composites for automobiles. In fact, according to Isogai, ultimately Japan will be using nanocellulose materials to mass build and produce carbon neutral automotive parts, bio-based fibers, gas-barrier packing films, electronic devices, high performance separators, catalyst supports, housing materials, insulators, cosmetics, and capacitor/separators for batteries.

“That’s what is so exciting about the 2019 Conference,” says Moon. “We’re taking theory and showing its real-world application in a wide variety of industries. We’re not pigeon-holed into one area; instead, we’re providing equal value to presenters and attendees. Representatives from these different industries tell us the problems they are encountering, while the researchers gain insight into where and how their work should progress in order to address these issues.”

To learn more about the 2019 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials, and for program updates as they develop, visit www.conference.tappinano.org.

1. Trache, D., Hussin, M. H., Haafiz, M. M., & Thakur, V. K. (2017). Recent progress in cellulose nanocrystals: sources and production. Nanoscale, 9(5), 1763-1786.
2. García, A., Gandini, A., Labidi, J., Belgacem, N., & Bras, J. (2016). Industrial and crop wastes: A new source for nanocellulose biorefinery. Industrial Crops and Products, 93, 26-38.

Janet LoBue is marketing manager for TAPPI. Reach her at [email protected] or (770) 209-7256. Jan Bottiglieri is editorial director for Paper360°.

Event Features Expert Speakers, Important Exhibit
A series of presentations at TAPPI’s 2019 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials (http://conference.tappinano.org) are being hosted by Japan’s Nanocellulose Forum (NCF), which is also co-locating its annual exhibit at the Conference. More than 50 companies are expected to be on site showcasing their products made with nanocellulose materials.
The list of NCF-sponsored speakers includes:

NANO Conference Welcome & TAPPI Keynote: Kazufumi Yamasaki, Executive Vice President and Representative Director, Nippon Paper Group

Overview of Canada: Emily Cranston, McMaster University

Overview of Europe: Lars Berglund, Wallenberg Wood Science Center, KTH Royal Institute of Sweden, and 2019 Co-chair

Overview of US: Dr. Alan Rudie, USDA Forest Product Laboratory, and 2019 Co-chair

Overview of China: Professor Dr. Yong Huang, Technical Institute of Physics and Chinese
Exhibit Highlights
Attendees at TAPPI Nano will have access to the Nanocellulose Exhibition featuring some of the newest technologies and developments from leaders in nanocellulose research and development. Exhibit highlights will include mass production, application research, end-products, production machinery, and analytical instruments.