New nanomaterial developed from plants is stronger than steel

(Nanowerk News) It's super strong, it's green and it's providing new opportunities for business in Alberta. It's called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) and Alberta is about to become a leader in its production and study. A new Edmonton-based pilot facility will be the first in Canada to produce the quality of NCC that researchers need to fully explore all its potential applications.
The $5.5-million pilot plant, created through a collaboration of the provincial and federal governments in partnership with industry under the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA), will use wood and straw pulp, like that from flax and hemp, to create up to 100 kg per week of NCC for testing in commercial applications leading to production.
Recent discoveries reveal NCC has useful properties such as great strength, optical characteristics and very large surface area at the nanoscale. The pilot plant will allow researchers to test and validate NCC from a variety of forest and agriculture materials for use in diverse applications such as, automotive components, paints and building materials, plastics, packaging, health care products and energy extraction.
"This has the potential to be one of the technologies that, literally, changes the world," said Greg Weadick, Minister of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. "This project focuses our Alberta Innovates system on gaining the knowledge and experience we need to develop the greener products that the world demands."
The project opens the door to new and diverse markets for Alberta's forest industry in areas like composite materials and coatings, drilling fluids, pharmaceuticals and more.
"Our Government's investment will help advance a new forestry product with the potential to diversify the industry," said Mike Lake, Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry. "With numerous sectors in Alberta that could benefit from NCC applications, this initiative will help increase our competitiveness and create jobs in our communities."
"Translating western Canada's world-class research into marketable applications is a key goal of our Government," said the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. "Projects like this help to grow our economy by establishing new markets and creating quality jobs across the west."
"This project highlights the role Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures (AITF) plays in Alberta's research and innovation system. AITF contributes technical expertise and world-class facilities to initiatives with commercial promise," said Dr. Gary Albach, President and CEO, of AITF. "We're excited to be involved and recognize the economic potential of nanocrystalline cellulose. Providing support to innovations like this, delivers on our mandate as an organization for enabling technical industries. AITF is designed to accelerate the growth of prosperous business in Alberta. That is exactly what we are doing with nanocrystalline cellulose production."
"Alberta-Pacific is pleased to be an industrial partner in this project. NCC represents an opportunity for our mill to produce a value-added material with significant market applications right here in Alberta, as well as around the world," said Brent Rabik, Director of Strategic Programs, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc.
The Canada-Alberta WEPA will target priorities that address regional needs and are consistent with national and provincial economic development strategies. The Canada-Alberta WEPA has identified four priority areas of activity: Technology Commercialization, Business Productivity and Competitiveness, Trade and Investment, and Value Added Processing.
Backgrounder: Partnership unlocks potential of renewable resource
Nanocrystalline cellulose is a renewable material that can be used in high-tech materials to enhance their function and at the same time make them greener.
What is Nanocrystalline Cellulose?
NCC is cellulose in crystalline form. It can be extracted from plant material and processed into solid, liquid and gel forms. Nanocrystalline cellulose has features such as high strength, electro-magnetic response and, at the nano-scale, very large surface area which provides opportunities for nanotechnology applications of the material. Once ounce of NCC added to one pound of plastic can make a composite material up to 3000-times stronger than the original plastic alone.
Potential uses for NCC
  • Composite materials
  • High strength fibres and textiles
  • Pharmaceuticals and drug delivery
  • Medical and dental applications
  • Additives in foods or cosmetics
  • Enhanced papers, packaging, building materials
  • Project Proponents
    Alberta Advanced Education and Technology (AET): In collaboration with Campus Alberta and Alberta Innovates partners, Advanced Education and Technology strives to build a prosperous province through a dynamic and integrated learning and innovation system built on a foundation of highly skilled people in support of a knowledge-based economy and society in Alberta.
    Western Economic Diversification Canada: Western Economic Diversification Canada works with the provinces, industry associations and communities to promote the development and diversification of the western economy, coordinates federal economic activities in the West and advances the interests of western Canadians in national decision making.
    Western Economic Partnership Agreement: The Canada-Alberta Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA) is a $50 million joint federal/provincial program that supports economic development in Alberta. The Canada-Alberta WEPA, announced March 20, 2009, is jointly administered by Western Economic Diversification Canada and Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. WEPA is equally funded by both partners, with each contributing $25 million over four years.
    Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures: AITF is part of Alberta's research and innovation system and is helping build healthy, sustainable businesses in the province. Through a suite of programs and services for entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, post-secondary institutions and investors, AITF provides technical services and funding support to facilitate the commercialization of technologies, to develop new knowledge-based industry clusters and to help encourage an entrepreneurial culture in Alberta.
    Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (ALPAC): Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc. (Al-Pac) is one of the most modern pulp mills in the world. Together, with our team members and team member contractors, we use environmentally sustainable practices to produce approximately 650,000 tonnes of high quality, elemental-chlorine-free bleached kraft pulp annually.
    Source: Government of Alberta