Innovation Leads to New Forest Product

By Chantal Hunter
January 2012

A new, environmentally friendly product derived from wood is helping re-invent the Canadian forest sector.
Photo of Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC)

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC)

In recent years, Canada's forest sector has undergone significant changes as it responded to increased international competition and reduced global demand for some forest products such as newsprint. Through investments in innovative technologies, the sector is now poised to take advantage of a wide range of new and promising forest derived products. One of these products is nanocrystalline cellulose, or NCC.

Extracted from wood fiber, NCC’s tensile strength and environmental benefits position it to create new markets for Canadian wood producers. Based on an abundant, renewable and biodegradable resource, NCC offers a significant advantage over existing industrial materials.  The potential of NCC lies in its ability to improve existing industrial products such as textiles, enhanced papers, improved plastics and specialized coatings.  

“The forest sector is reinventing itself. Science and Canadian-led technology are leading to new and innovative uses of wood fibre.”

Joe Cunningham, Canadian Forest Service (CFS),
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan)

NCC: Strong, Light and Renewable

“The advantage of these tiny fibres, which are stronger than steel, is that they render materials rigid and durable while still being lightweight,” says Joe Cunningham, Manager, Forest Innovation, at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Existing materials can be improved using NCC to increase their resistance to stress threefold, making it attractive as a high-performance reinforcing product.

The potential for the use of NCC in materials development is wide and varied. Reinforced polymers, high-strength textiles, and even advanced composite materials are materials being explored for potential use of NCC.  It could also enhance the properties of paints, varnishes and other coatings.  Eventually, NCC could be used in the manufacture of lightweight components for automobiles and airplanes, leading to much lighter, more durable and greener products. This has been made possible through investments in the forest sector by the Government of Canada.

Innovation, Investment and Partnership

Through Natural Resources Canada’s Transformative Technologies Research Program (TTP), FPInnovations has developed a process to economically extract NCC from wood. Once extracted, the NCC is processed into solid flake, liquid or gel forms, which can then be used to create biocomposites, bioplastics, iridescent coatings, wear-resistant surface treatments and more.

Photo of NCC plant under construction, Windsor, Québec

The nanocrystalline cellulose plant under construction at Domtar’s Pulp and Paper mill, Windsor, Québec. Photo credit: CelluForce

FPInnovations is further partnering with the province of Quebec and Domtar Inc. to develop and commercialize NCC technology. Funding from both the TTP and NRCan’s Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program (PPGTP) have supported the building of a new pilot scale demonstration facility at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec.

The pilot plant will produce one tonne of NCC per day out of hardwood kraft pulp. It will be the first facility in the world at this scale and will pave the way for the creation of renewable industrial and consumer forest products.

“The forest sector is reinventing itself,” says Joe. “Science and Canadian-led technology are leading to new and innovative uses of wood fibre.”

To read about related articles, see Forestry Industry

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