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Domtar & CelluForce: Innovating with Cellulose Nanocrystals


Concerns over the long-term effects of plastics in our environment have led to stronger calls for biobased, renewable materials. One such material is nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), also known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). These tiny crystals are extracted from wood and processed into a powder or liquid suspension, which can be used to add strength, enhance lubrication and improve impermeability in everyday products.

Our 170-year history of refining biomass puts us in a unique position to be a leader in the shift from a fossil-fuel-based economy to one that is biobased, relying on the most renewable fossil fuel alternative on the planet — trees.

Advanced Fibers and Cellulose Nanocrystals

Our research in biomaterials science includes advanced fibers, cellulosic sugars, thermochemical fuels, Biochoice® lignin and extractives. Each of these platforms uses natural components from trees to develop innovative, biobased products and applications.

An important part of our work in advanced fibers happens through our ownership in CelluForce®, a Montreal-based company that manufactures cellulose nanocrystals from the cellulose found in trees. CelluForce operates the world’s largest cellulose nanocrystal plant at Domtar’s Windsor Mill, producing 300 tons per year.

With cellulose being the most abundant organic compound on earth, as well as renewable and biodegradable, the potential applications for cellulose nanocrystals are vast and environmentally sustainable.

“Our involvement in CelluForce plays into Domtar’s mission of creating high-value products from every part of our supply chain,” says Mark DeAndrea, Domtar’s vice president of BioMaterials and CelluForce board member. “We are excited about the future of CelluForce and the potential role cellulose nanocrystals will play in everyday products.”

Domtar and CelluForce

CelluForce produces CelluForce NCC®, a family of cellulose nanocrystal products. These products have specific properties to enhance the performance of industrial and commercial products:

  • Strengthening — CNC can be added to products like tires or latex gloves to strengthen them.
  • Blocking — CNC can be added as a layer in packaging films to improve food protection.
  • Lubricating — CNC can be used in lubricants to reduce wear in machinery and other moving parts.
  • Suspending — CNC can be added to products such as paint or cement to prevent particles from settling.

CelluForce NCC is currently used in FogKicker®, a high-performance anti-fog solution for mirrors, dive masks, goggles and visors. A single clear coating prevents fog from forming, is water-resistant and doesn’t irritate. CelluForce NCC is also used by Schlumberger in deep-ocean oil-drilling fluids to prevent sand from contaminating the oil and to lower the environmental footprint of the end product.

“There are a lot of opportunities to use CelluForce NCC in everyday products, especially with the increasing pressure to find greener alternatives to petroleum-based products, such as traditional plastics,” says Sebastien Corbeil, CelluForce CEO. “CelluForce is well-positioned to provide part of the solution to help the move toward a circular economy. The interest in CNC is growing everyday as product manufacturers try to improve performance while lowering their environmental footprint. The uses are broad, providing us with a large playing field and a good potential for growth.”

Mark DeAndrea adds, “I am personally surprised how quickly biomaterials are gaining traction in our industry. The market pull, combined with our development efforts, partner companies, governments and universities, has enabled our portfolio to grow to more than 20 significant opportunities, with several being commercialized as we speak. We’ve been looking at macro trends — such as moves to ban plastic or increase the use of biodegradable, carbon-neutral, renewable fuel sources and materials — to identify pain points within existing industries and determine where we can provide a solution and, more importantly, have a competitive advantage.”