, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1097-1111
Date: 13 Apr 2011

A comparative study of energy consumption and physical properties of microfibrillated cellulose produced by different processing methods

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Microfibrillated celluloses (MFCs) with diameters predominantly in the range of 10–100 nm liberated from larger plant-based fibers have garnered much attention for the use in composites, coatings, and films due to large specific surface areas, renewability, and unique mechanical properties. Energy consumption during production is an important aspect in the determination of the “green” nature of these MFC-based materials. Bleached and unbleached hardwood pulp samples were processed by homogenization, microfluidization, and micro-grinding, to determine the effect of processing on microfibril and film properties, relative to energy consumption. Processing with these different methods affected the specific surface area of the MFCs, and the film characteristics such as opacity, roughness, density, water interaction properties, and tensile properties. Apparent film densities were approximately 900 kg/m3 for all samples and the specific surface area of the processed materials ranged from approximately 30 to 70 m2/g for bleached hardwood and 50 to 110 m2/g for unbleached hardwood. The microfluidizer resulted in films with higher tensile indices than both micro-grinding and homogenization (148 Nm/g vs. 105 Nm/g and 109 Nm/g, respectively for unbleached hardwood). Microfluidization and micro-grinding resulted in films with higher toughness values than homogenization and required less energy to obtain these properties, offering promise for producing MFC materials with lower energy input. It was also determined that a refining pretreatment required for microfluidization or homogenization can be reduced or eliminated when producing MFCs with the micro-grinder. A summary of the fiber and mechanical energy costs for different fibers and processing conditions with economic potential is presented.