Materials

Thermoplastic cellulose for replacing plastic

On top of the several current uses, cellulose would find use in bioplastic applications if it was thermoplastic, either intrinsically or due to functionalization. In order to achieve thermoplasticity, the solubility and mechanical properties of cellulose need to be tailored, without significantly affecting its natural performance. VTT developed a technology that decreases cellulose molar mass in a controlled manner and leads to cellulose with thermoplastic properties after chemical functionalization.

Plastic products

VTT’s method is based on chemical treatment of cellulose in specific conditions, providing cellulose which can be further functionalized with significantly lower chemical amounts.

The technology has been demonstrated with dissolved cellulose, kraft cellulose, as well as with recycled paper as raw material and the process requires only conventional process equipment.

After functionalization, e.g. by esterification, cellulose possesses a thermoplastic behaviour, therefore it can be used in various similar processes and applications as fossil-based plastics is used. The cellulose can be pelletized and converted to final application with traditional equipment used in the plastic industry.

100% biobased and a straightforward process

Thermoplastic cellulose offers 100% biobased thermoplastic for manufacturing plastic products with existing plastic converting equipment. The process steps are straightforward and can be up-scaled with business-as-usual engineering.

With true industrial market prices of the starting cellulose, thermoplastic cellulose could have a competitive price at the industrial scale compared to existing biobased thermoplastic materials.

Easy technological adoption

The innovativeness of this thermoplastic cellulose solution lies partly in the ease of technology adoption; the route to thermoplastics uses existing raw material and equipment in all process steps. Further, a competitive cost level at industrial manufacturing volumes is expected.

VTT is currently manufacturing the thermoplastic cellulose at the scale of 2 kg.

Further information: Jarmo Ropponen, jarmo.ropponen@vtt.fi, +358400215951