ASCC researcher discovers environmentally favorable applications for nanocomposite materials

An article by Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) researcher Eric Landis has been published in Environmental Science & Technology. The publication titled “Harmonized Life-Cycle Inventories of Nanocellulose and Its Application in Composites” explores how nanocomposite materials like cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and nanofibers (CNF) are broadly known to be renewable materials with low-emissions, but their research finds that when used in Portland cement their emissions are higher than traditional materials. This publication addresses consideration of the sustainability of the design process (in a variety of applications) when using CNC, CNF, or nanocomposite materials.

Harmonized Life-Cycle Inventories of Nanocellulose and Its Application in Composites

Eric Landis

Proceedings of the American Society for Composites 38th Technical Conference (2023)


Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and nanofibers (CNF) have been broadly studied as renewable nanomaterials for various applications, including additives in cement and plastics composites. Herein, life cycle inventories for 18 previously examined processes are harmonized, and the impacts of CNC and CNF production are compared with a particular focus on GHG emissions. Findings show wide variations in GHG emissions between process designs, from 1.8–1100 kg CO2-eq/kg nanocellulose. Mechanical and enzymatic processes are identified as the lowest GHG emission methods to produce CNCs and CNFs. For most processes, energy consumption and chemical use are the primary sources of emissions. However, on a mass basis, for all examined production methods and impact categories (except CO emissions), CNC and CNF production emissions are higher than Portland cement and, in most cases, are higher than polylactic acid. This work highlights the need to carefully consider process design to prevent potential high emissions from CNCs and CNF production despite their renewable feedstock, and results show the magnitude of conventional material that must be offset through improved performance for these materials to be environmentally favorable.

Keywords: Cellulose Nanocrystal (CNC), Cellulose Nanofiber (CNF), Cement, Plastic, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Nanocomposite

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