Cellulose is used on a large scale as a raw material for paper, textiles, paints, plastics, and other products. This natural material has the potential to replace a substantial part of the fossil resources used in products. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research collaborates with partners in the development of sustainable solutions for existing technological challenges. The starting point: there are suitable applications available for every cellulose source and vice versa.
“Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer in the world,” says Jeroen van Bon of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “Many industries already use this material on a large scale in their production process. We see enormous potential for wider use of cellulose, e.g. in making building materials, bioplastics, and packaging that currently use a lot of petrochemical resources. Thanks to 25 years of experience with cellulose research, we are able to oversee the whole process from raw material to end product. This is why we want to bring all parties in the chain together, to jointly work on better technologies for existing and new applications.”
Most suitable route from raw material to end product
There is no shortage of cellulose resources: from flax and trees on the land, to residual streams like straw, leaves, and coconut husks. Additionally, material streams like textile waste and organic municipal waste are also rich in cellulose. Finding the most suitable route from raw material to end product is a challenge for researchers which, in Van Bon’s opinion, is not only caused by the great diversity in biomass streams: “The quality and composition of cellulose types vary widely. In Wageningen, we have a wide variety of techniques available to extract cellulose from all those resources and modify it in such a way that it can be used for specific applications. The challenge is to retain the valuable and useful intrinsic properties of cellulose as possible, while limiting the use of energy and chemicals to a minimum.
During every processing step
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research wants to support partners in several areas, says Van Bon: “We can help producers of raw materials and processors of cellulose by finding the most suitable application for cellulose and we can assist manufacturers by finding the most suitable cellulose material for their end products. However, we don’t only look at the technical challenges: we also want to help partners in the creation of an efficient and economically appealing value chain.”
Call for partners
Van Bon invites interested companies to join in. “There could be companies that are already working with cellulose, and who want to take a technological step forward. However, I would also like to meet companies that are looking for alternatives to petrochemical resources in the field of construction materials, packaging, and plastics.”