Biomacromolecules, Vol.21, No.4, 1480-1488, 2020
Self-Fibrillating Cellulose Fibers: Rapid In Situ Nanofibrillation to Prepare Strong, Transparent, and Gas Barrier Nanopapers
Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) prepared from wood biomass are promising candidates to replace oil-based materials in, for example, packaging applications. However, CNFs' affinity for water combined with their small size leads to very slow and energy-demanding processes for handling and removal of water. To a large extent, this is the major roadblock that prevents a feasible production of dry CNF-based materials on an industrial scale. In this work, self-fibrillating fibers (SFFs) from wood, where the fibrils can be liberated by external stimuli, were prepared via sequential TEMPO and periodate oxidation reactions. Papers made from these modified fibers using conventional laboratory papermaking methods were then in situ nanofibrillated via a modest pH increase. With a dewatering time of less than 10 s for a 3 g/L dispersion, SFFs represent a major improvement over conventional CNF nanopapers that take approximately 6 h to dewater. Moreover, 100 g/m(2) nanopapers obtained through in situ fibrillation exhibited comparable, if not superior, properties to those reported for conventionally made CNF films. A tensile strength of 184 MPa, a Young's modulus of 5.2 GPa, a strain at break of 4.6%, 90% optical transmittance, and an oxygen permeability of 0.7 cm(3) mu mm(-2) d(-1) kPa(-1) at 50% RH were measured for SFF nanopapers. Furthermore, in situ nanofibrillation of the SFFs can also be achieved from already dried papers, facilitating numerous possibilities in terms of logistics and handling for an industrial scale-up and transportation of nanomaterials. Overall, stimuli-induced SFFs indeed enable a rapid production of strong, transparent, gas barrier nanopapers, which likely can be industrially scaled up and eventually compete with the oil-based plastics in the market for packaging materials.