Tree pulp in mayo? Nanocellulose research gathers pace

Nanocellulose and lignin, derived from wood fibers, are on the verge of becoming available in larger commercial quantities, bringing the possibility of replacing a range of oil-based products with more environmental friendly alternatives. Roselle Chen reports.

(REUTERS / STORA ENSO) – Companies around the world are working to produce a wood derived material – nanocellulose – in commercial quantities as they attempt to end our dependence on chemicals taken from petroleum and gas.

Producing nanocellulose has traditionally been too costly for mass production, but Europe’s largest paper manufacturer Stora Enso is exploring the development of a variety of new products using wood as a renewable resource.

Mikael Hannus is the company’s head of research and innovation.


“The tree consists of cellulose, hemicellulose – which are close to the cellulose – and lignin. About 50 percent of the tree is cellulose that is produced starting from this size of chips that are digested to produce pulp in a pulp mill.”

The pulp is then further refined and sometimes bleached to make white paper or board and also made into textile fibers.

Hannus says that in the future, nanocellulose will enhance the way we feel and even taste things, like fat free mayonnaise.

Lignin holds wood fibers together and is removed in pulp production, to be mostly disposed of or burnt as fuel in pulp mills.

It’s now increasingly seen as a potential green rival to many fossil-based materials.

Niklas Garoff is Stora Enso’s research project manager.


“It is possible to extract the lignin in pulp mills. What you get is a brownish powder… and out of this lignin you can make a number of different, very interesting, applications and products.”

He said scientists are looking at making high value products out of lignin, such as carbon fiber for things like airplanes, cars, and rotor blades for turbine windmills.

Stora Enso believes nanocellulose and lignin products will become widespread within 10 years.