Nanocellulose is a promising, renewable nanomaterial. ScienceDaily has called the “wonder material” of the future. How cool is nanocellulose? Well, even Gizmodo and The Verge have talked about it. (Here is a very nice review by by Klemm et al. (2006) about the properties and applications of nanocellulose.)
In a recent publication (Nanocellulose Life Cycle Assessment), members of VTSuN reported the life cycle assessment of lab scale synthesis of nanocellulose. Four different synthesis methods were analyzed the trade offs in each case have been identified. You can read the abstract below and access the full article here.
“Nanocellulose is a nascent and promising material with many exceptional properties and a broad spectrum of potential applications. Because of the unique and functional materials that can be created using nanocellulose, pilot-scale development for commercialization has begun. Thus a thorough understanding of its environmental impact, covering the whole life cycle of nanocellulose, becomes the foundation for its long-term sustainable success. In this current study, four comparable lab scale nanocellulose fabrication routes were evaluated through a cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment (LCA) adopting the Eco-Indicator 99 method. The results indicated that for the chemical-mechanical fabrication routes, the majority of the environmental impact of nanocellulose fabrication is dependent upon both the chemical modification and mechanical treatment route chosen. For sonication, the mechanical treatment overshadows that from the chemical modifications. Adapting the best practice based on unit mass production was 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl (TEMPO) oxidation followed by homogenization, as TEMPO oxidation resulted in a lower impact than carboxymethylation. Even though the fabrication process of nanocellulose presents a large environmental footprint markup relative to its raw material extraction process (kraft pulping), it still exhibits prominent environmental advantages over other nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes.”