Patent of the Week: A Low-Cost and Non-Toxic Process for Creating Sustainable Material

Patent of the Week

Thin fibers made from wood, cellulose nanofibers are apt for use in materials applications because of their desirable chemical, mechanical, and environmental properties. However, isolating these materials is a challenge and has traditionally required toxic chemicals and high-energy specialized machines.

Now, researchers at the University of Chicago – including Stuart Rowan, Barry L. MacLean Professor for Molecular Engineering Innovation and Enterprise at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering – have invented a low-cost, non-toxic alternative.

As the researchers explained in a paper published last year, the patent-pending technique “only requires cheap and low toxic chemicals and simple reaction conditions, relative to the more commonly used chemical methods… or mechanical methods that need specific instrumentation (such as high-pressure homogenizer) and large amount of energy consumption.”

In proof-of-concept experiments, the inventors used their process to successfully isolate cellulose nanofibers from a sustainable grass hybrid Miscanthus x. Giganteus (MxG) by a new two-step chemical oxidation, that involves bleach treatment and ammonium persulfate oxidation, followed by ultrasonication.

“This treatment is a more facile, cleaner method to isolate nanocellulose from the sustainable biosource MxG,” according to the researchers.

Described as “a highly sustainable source” for the production of nanocellulose, MxG can be planted in poor quality soil and requires little herbicide, fertilizer, or water. Also adding to its advantages, MxG is fast-growing – reaching up to 12 feet in a two-year period. It also can be harvested for 15–20 years without replanting.

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// Patent of the Week is a weekly column highlighting research and inventions from University of Chicago faculty.

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