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What can I find cellulose in?

When you think of trees and what they provide us, what comes to mind?  Perhaps the first things you thought of included writing paper, lumber, boxes, and many more things that you see and touch each and every day.  Trees do provide us with an enormous portfolio of products that we can easily identify.  But what about some of the more obscure uses for trees and the cellulose derived from them?  Specialty applications for wood pulp include acetate, ethers, and a wide variety of specialty products such as food and plastics.  Pulp used for specialty applications is usually called “dissolving pulp” and has higher alpha cellulose content than other types of pulp.  Dissolving pulp produced in paper mills is sold to chemical companies who will convert it into products like acetate or ethers.  Brightness and viscosity are the major two variables to control and that define what products dissolving pulp can go into.

LCD Screens?

Cellulose acetate has many applications.  It can be found in products such as eyeglass frames, cigarette filters, tool handles, some fabrics, and even LCD screens!  High purity, uniform dissolving pulp must be used to make cellulose acetate.  Paper mills may use a kraft or sulfite process to make this high purity pulp and sell it to acetate fiber producers.  Those producers will react the cellulose with acetic acid and acetic anhydride to make cellulose acetate which will be converted into final product form.

Ice Cream?girl-triple-decker-ice-cream-cone-500

Cellulose ethers are produced using similar methods used to produce acetate.  The dissolving pulp used to make ethers will be similar to acetate, but brightness and viscosity will be controlled differently to meet the requirements of the end product.  Ethers is often used as a thickener and can be found in products including paint, toothpaste, cement, and food.

Nano – what?

An emerging and unique use for wood cellulose is called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).   To create NCC, pulp is reacted to produce high purity cellulose crystals that are sold to customers who will make the final product.  NCC can be used in an assortment of industries including oil and gas, paper, plastic, cement, and many others.  For example, one NCC developer called CelluForce has shown it can improve the paper machine product and white water quality.  As NCC is a developing industry there are still many hurdles, such as high costs, to overcome before it becomes a more widely used chemical and its full potential is realized.

Trees are the Future

Many people see the trend of paper usage decreasing as electronics have reduced the use and need for books, newspapers, and printer paper.  What people may not realize is there are specialty uses for wood pulp like acetate, ethers, and NCC that are supporting entire separate industries.  Could this be the future of the paper industry?

As you can see, there is an enormous amount of uses for the cellulose that comes from trees.  Whether it’s found in the TV screen we are watching football on, the uniforms the players are wearing, the box that the pizza came in, or the napkin we use to wipe our mouth with, there’s no denying that trees are everywhere!

guest blogger: Taylor Krakuszeski