Cellulose: versatile cornerstone of the bio-based economy

Cellulose has the potential to become the cornerstone of the bio-based economy. These natural fibres are already widely used in paper, plastics, textiles and paints. But their potential is much bigger: according to Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, cellulose can replace a sizeable proportion of all fossil raw materials.

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There’s no shortage of it, either: cellulose is the most common natural polymer on earth. What’s more, there are plentiful supplies of the substance in non-edible residual flows from agriculture, nature conservation and the food industry. Collected kitchen and garden waste and textiles are also rich in cellulose. Because owners are often unsure what to do with these flows, the valuable material often goes unused. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research wants to seize opportunities to maximise the commercial value of cellulose from these residual and secondary streams in a sustainable way.

We’re working on breakthroughs on three fronts:

  • We are developing new technological pathways to isolate cellulose from biomass and adapt it to specific applications, preserving as much of its natural functionality as possible. Wherever possible, we use gentle technologies involving minimal use of chemicals and energy.
  • We are putting suppliers of cellulose-rich biomass and buyers of raw materials in touch with each other – a crucial step, since the supply and demand sides don’t yet know where to find each other. Our aim is to develop efficient and economically viable value chains for cellulose as alternatives to existing ‘fossil’ chains.
  • We are working with businesses to develop successful applications for cellulose streams. There are numerous opportunities for using cellulose from renewable raw materials: from industrial coatings and adhesives to high-performance bioplastics and building materials. In order to find renewable alternatives to petrochemical-based products, we are searching for the best cellulose source and technology, based on our conviction that suitable applications can be found for every cellulose source, and vice versa.

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research will continue to invest in research into cellulose in the years ahead. Working with suppliers and customers, we intend to convert the enormous potential of this versatile natural building block into sustainable and viable solutions for everyday products.