, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 3871–3886 | Cite as

Characteristics and safety of nano-sized cellulose fibrils

  • Marja PitkänenEmail author
  • Heli Kangas
  • Ossi Laitinen
  • Asko Sneck
  • Panu Lahtinen
  • Maria Soledad Peresin
  • Jouko Niinimäki
Original Paper


A finely ground fibrillated cellulose was fractionated into separate size fractions. The characteristics of the smallest size fractions were studied, and the toxicity to humans was tested as part of a safety assessment. Morphological studies performed with state-of-the-art methods, such as scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy, showed that the fraction obtained consisted of long thin fibrils but also larger fibril agglomerates, and spherical particles were present. The finest fraction did not show any sub-lethal effects as assessed by RNA inhibition test in vitro, nor were there any indications of genotoxicity as tested by the Ames test in vitro. Systemic effects tested in vivo with the nematode were also absent. No cytotoxic effects were seen in the highest tolerated dose test in vitro, but some indication of cytotoxicity was observed in the total protein content test in vitro at the highest sample concentration. The significance of this toxicity test result should be addressed in relation to the other toxicity tests, in which no toxicity was observed, with special emphasis on the in vivo test. Given this, the overall toxicity analyses support the conclusion that nano-scale cellulose fibrils can be considered to be safe towards humans. However, the reason for the positive cytotoxicity test result and, in addition, the effect of the biocide used in sample preservation on the toxicity tests need to be clarified before generalizing these results and declaring nanocellulose to be unambiguously safe.


Nano-sized cellulose fibrils Cellulose nanofibrils Nanocellulose Fibrillated cellulose Cytotoxicity Genotoxicity 



The research leading to these results was performed as part of the Efficient Networking towards Novel Products and Processes (EffNet) research programme of the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster (FIBIC). The EffNet programme has received funding from Tekes—the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation and from Forestcluster Ltd. The authors would like to thank Ulla Honkalampi-Hämäläinen, Biosafe Special Laboratory Services Oy Ltd, and Professor Atte von Wright, University of Eastern Finland, for performing the toxicity tests and their help in interpretation of the results.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marja Pitkänen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heli Kangas
    • 1
  • Ossi Laitinen
    • 2
  • Asko Sneck
    • 1
  • Panu Lahtinen
    • 1
  • Maria Soledad Peresin
    • 1
  • Jouko Niinimäki
    • 2
  1. 1.VTT Technical Research of FinlandEspooFinland
  2. 2.Fibre and Particle Engineering LaboratoryUniversity of OuluOuluFinland

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