Paper Cuts: New material could slash CO2, energy of paper production

A nano form of cellulose is stronger than conventional wood pulp, so you need less of it, says Finnish research team.

A paper mill in Hearst, Ontario.

The industrial processes that produce modern economic staples such as steel, cement and paper have an enormous environmental impact, including huge carbon emissions.

We've tracked a few innovations aimed at tackling that in  steel and cement here at SmartPlanet (and will continue to do so). Now, here's a quick bit of news on paper: A research team in Finland says that a substitute material for conventional wood pulp could slash CO2 emissions in the paper making process by 15 percent or more.

According to Chemistry World, the researchers found that a nano form of cellulose would be stronger than wood pulp, which is the conventional cellulose that gives paper its strength. Paper would require less of the "nanocellulose," allowing manufacturers to use more filler such as china clay.

Chemistry World quotes Ali Harlin, professor of renewable materials at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland as saying, "The basic idea to increase the filler content in paper is a long lasting dream of the papermaker because china clay is typically much less expensive than the cellulose and its carbon footprint is less as it's just a mineral coming from the earth."

Nanocellulose is "a new class of nanomaterial comprising crystalline or fibrous units of cellulose between 5 and 500nm in diameter and potentially hundreds of micrometers in length," according to the magazine.

Paper from nanocellulose would require 30 percent less energy to dry, support a higher printing quality, and be less translucent than today's paper, says Harlin.

Once again, industry provides evidence that environmental advances can be as much about production and resource utilization as about renewable energy generation. We'll keep an eye on whether this idea fully shines, or whether it turns out to be only a paper moon.

Photo from "P199" via Wikimedia.

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