2017 TAPPI Nano Conference Hosts First Ever End User Forum for Cellulose Nanomaterials 

James Ede and Jo Anne Shatkin, Vireo Advisors, LLC. 

The TAPPI Nanotechnology Division hosted its first ever end-user forum at this year’s conference, a significant milestone towards the wide-scale commercial adoption of cellulose nanomaterials (CNMs). The excitement was captured both in attendance (standing room only) and eager questions from audience members for the panel.  

Because of tireless efforts by organizers Hamdy Khalil and Emily Cranston, diverse interests were represented spanning automotives through cosmetics. End user panel participants included: Kent Nielsen from 3M Canada, Toivo Kodas from Cabot Corporation, Debbie Mielewski from Ford Motor Company, Dr. Vidal Laurent from L’Oréal, and Valerie Lafitte from Schlumberger. 

Some of the key topics from these prominent, industry-leading companies included:  

  • Processes for screening new technologies like cellulose nanomaterials;  
  • Company considerations when deciding to adopt new or novel materials in their product lines;  
  • Some applications under consideration/ development for CNMs;  
  • Challenges for commercial adoption; and  
  • Strategies for accelerating commercial adoption. 

A theme heard from all end users when considering new materials such as CNMs is that environmental and sustainability considerations play a bigger role in decision making within their organizations than ever before. However, performance and cost are still the biggest factors when considering new materials for commercial applications. Kent Nielsen (3M Canada) stressed the importance of performance, and how new materials must offer improved or unique properties over existing materials to be considered for adoption. All members acknowledged that cost was also a large consideration. Toivo Kodas (Cabot Corporation) emphasized it is cost, not price, needed for decision making – stressing cost equations are complex and need to take additional considerations into account across the full supply chain. Sustainability is a bonus, but not a driver without meeting performance and cost requirements.  

Panel discussions focused on some of the potential applications for cellulose nanomaterials. The product categories were vast, and included uses in coatings, adhesives and films (3M Canada), hybrid composites for automotive parts (Ford Motor Company), hygiene and cosmetic products (L’Oréal), and uses in oil field fluids (Schlumberger). These applications were just a snapshot for these companies, and as Kodas (Cabot Corporation) pointed out, there is a huge diversity of applications for cellulose nanomaterials.  

Despite this, all members of the end user panel also discussed some of the challenges they face in terms of commercial adoption, and some of the strategies that can be used to accelerate commercialization. Toivo Kodas (Cabot Corporation) highlighted toxicology and environmental impact as unknowns for these materials, which can take decades to come into focus. However, data to date suggests these materials are safe, and together with the benefits of these materials, Kodas suggested that for CNMs all of the boxes are checked and it is just matter of time before these materials are adopted. To accelerate commercialization, many applications require a large and reliable supply of material, and getting production volume up and costs down would mean faster adoption of cellulose nanomaterials.  

Debbie Mielewski (Ford Motor Company) discussed some of the performance challenges cellulose nanomaterials face for adoption in automobiles including: withstanding the extreme environment these materials are exposed to (-40 to 125 F, UV exposure, etc.), appearance, impact strength, chemical compatibility, safety, and others. To facilitate commercialization, her suggestion was to focus efforts on applications where significant improvements in properties are observed, with minor amounts of material. Mielewski also suggested that incorporating CNM into existing composites to create hybrid materials helps to facilitate adoption. Engineers generally don’t like risk, so improving familiarity by working with hybrids helps to improve comfort levels in working with novel materials.  

Vidal Laurent (L’Oreal) explained, “we invest in biodegradable and biocompatible polymers” and are interested in CNMs for their special optical properties for cosmetic applications. L’Oreal is actively working on supercritical drying techniques, among others. Lastly, Valerie Lafitte discussed some of the hurdles and requirements for commercial adoption of CNMs by Schlumberger. Requirements include adequate supply (few-1000 tonnes); quality assurance/quality control for product consistency; health, safety and environmental considerations (ecotoxicity testing, biodegradability, etc.); and being able to clear various national regulations for worldwide application. Lafitte also acknowledged that working closely with the manufacturer sped their product development process along, and was an excellent strategy for accelerating commercialization, suggesting that the more the producer can do to address technical issues, the easier they make for an end user to adopt the technology. Despite this, Lafitte said, “I have no doubt this will be commercial really soon.” 

The end-user panel was exciting lively discussion that brought together CNM producers and end users. There was enthusiasm for these materials from both the panel and audience, acknowledging their potential, and productive discussions on the ways manufacturers and end users can work together to facilitate successful commercialization of CNM products to the market. Based on the success of this first End User Panel, TAPPI intends to make the End User Panel a feature in future conferences