Amazing Paper - the art, science and future opportunities

Mark Martinez (UBC)
Event Date and Time: 
Thu, 2016-04-14 14:00 - 15:00
TRIUMF Auditorium

The harvest of natural resources is the backbone of a thriving Canadian economy. Without a viable pulp and paper industry it is not possible to have a viable forestry industry. Traditionally, BC and Canada's pulp and paper sector has been a newsprint exporter to the US market. The recent economic downturn, coupled with disruptive technologies for paperless communication, has resulted in a 40% reduction in newsprint and communication paper consumption. This turning point means that the forest industry's survival depends on Canada's ability to develop innovative new uses for high quality BC wood fibres.

Despite these market changes, the future of the forest industry in BC and Canada is bright-green, and the timing for a broader consumer acceptance of fibre based materials and products may never be better. Our shifting focus on the environment and climate change makes the use of natural wood fibre a significantly planet friendly choice over traditional fossil based and other non-renewable materials. Historically, before the plastic revolution, fibre was the dominant material for many consumer level products, including clothing, wall coverings, carpet underlay, and of course, grocery bags. We expect to be constructing houses from trees for the foreseeable future and as a result there will be an abundance of high quality residual wood fibre. The competitiveness of the forest industry is dependent on the ability to extract high value fibre to create novel products or processes far removed from papermaking.

Research and development is rapidly underway worldwide to develop truly unique bio-products by breaking down wood pulp fibres into their elementary components, namely nano-crystalline (NCC) and micro-fibrillated (MFC) cellulose. The area has garnered widespread interest for applications in composites, coatings, and films because of high surface areas, renewability, and unique mechanical properties. In the last 10 years nearly 1200 papers have been published in this area and 7 production facilities have been started worldwide (2 have been started in Canada). The market is estimated to be greater than $200 billion, world-wide and the leading edge in research is in the development of novel materials, processes or applications.

In this talk, we will review the art, history and significance of traditional papermaking on society. Following this, we will examine one aspect of my research program, that is to develop novel pathways to produce MFC-based products. Here we will focus primarily on a novel, recently patented, particle sorting methodology to upgrade the value and usefulness of MFC. If time permits, we will discuss a technique of hydrodynamic focussing coupled with reaction to create MFC threads and hollow tubes. The proposed process is a form of bio-mimicry used by the spider during the production of silk.

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