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Three things you need to know about nanotechnology in papermaking

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Three things you need to know about nanotechnology in papermaking

March 25, 2011 - 02:16

NEW YORK, March 25, 2011 (RISI) -Advances in the fields of micro and nanotechnology can bring immediate benefits to pulp and paper producers, as well as help the industry reach its goals for the future.

Although it is not a brand new concept, nanotechnology and its uses in the industry are still in their early stages with significant areas open for research and application development. And while many mills have only recently begun introducing micro- and nanotechnology into some their processes, there are a wide range of paper and packaging products that already use nanotechnology throughout their production. Most importantly, it might be possible, through the use of nanotechnology, to eventually produce paper without any pollution and at less cost.

These are just a few of things many people do not realize about the possibility of nanotechnology in the pulp and paper industry, according to Dr. Mahendra Patel, author of the bookMicro and Nanotechnology in Paper Manufacturing. "All the stages of paper manufacturing can benefit from nanotechnology," says Patel. In fact, nanotechnology has now practically pervaded all of the major industrial fields and many, says Patel, including pulp and paper, are enjoying the boon of this still-revolutionary technology. "All the cutting-edge technologies are slowing converging on this single technology and any new development today cannot be but by the route of nanotechnology."

Pulp and paper can benefit today from nanotechnology

"We have to understand that the basic concept of all types of fibres in paper manufacturing is the cellulose or more precisely the gluco pyranose unit, measuring 5.25 nanometre," says Patel. Because of this micro- and nano-base, paper machinery manufacturers have been including nanotechnology for years as a way to improve production and quality. Using micro sensors for online measurements, and adopting processes such as nanocoating, have become common for most paper production, allowing mills to producer higher, more consistent quality.

In an illustration from his book, Dr. Patel diagrams the different possibilities for micro- and nanotechnology in pulp and paper manufacturing

"It remains to manipulate these nano units for complex devices to reach the dreamland of nanotechnology," explains Patel. "But while this is the ideal destination, there are immediate possibilities of reaching varying heights of micro- and nanotechnologies in all stages of paper manufacturing." For example, nanotechnology is employed substantially in the production of packaging materials for security, counterfeiting, safety and anti-microbial uses. And new products are constantly being introduced using nanotechnology, such as antibacterial paper, tissue paper and newsprint.

Nanotechnology can be implemented into existing processes

"Many companies have already initiated introducing nanotechnology to some of their processes, notably in the plantation, wet end, calendering, and coating of paper and packaging materials," says Patel. Antibacterial paper is a typical example of using nano-metals inside the phyllosilicate minerals. Many specialty papers with electronic and magnetic properties have already been started, and some composite products with very high strength have been produced.

There are some special instrumental and facilities needed for an effective implementation of nanotechnology into a mill. Some of these may be costly, such as establishing brand new facilities where required, but Patel stresses that cooperating with other industries may mitigate. "If we can open up our areas of operation to other industries and laboratories through collaborations and cooperation, it can somehow be managed," says Patel. "In fact, there is no other way but to look for outsiders not only for material help but also knowledge, at least at this stage, specializing in fields such as material science, mineralogy, metallurgy, biotechnology, medicine, aeronautics, and space."

Mills will look to nanotechnology for most of their future benefits

"The ultimate benefit awaited from nanotechnology using bottom-up processes is to produce paper without any pollution and at the least cost," says Patel. However, this concept could take time to materialize. Advancements in micro-particle and micro-polymer technologies that have been in application for several years are improving retention and drainage at the wet end. In this regard, Patel commends the industry for achieving higher pulp yield with reduced water and energy consumption, and reduced pollutant concentration in effluents. But the concept of a zero-effluent discharge mill could become a real possibility with new nano-filtration and membrane technologies.

Other future benefits, accomplished through nanotechnology are by applying processes and products achieved in other areas. For example, the micro- and nano-minerals and particles being developed today, nano-metals, micro-organisms, nano-filters, nano-ceramic and composite practices and products will continue to improve paper manufacturing. Development on these levels will have direct application to the pulp and paper industry.

The use of micro- and nano-particle technology, especially at the wet end, have been in the running for than a decade, but they will improve through the discovery of better nano-minerals and corresponding chemicals, adds Patel. "What is necessary for the pulp and paper industries is to review all products and processes using the micro- and nano- concepts, which will make incremental improvements initially," says Patel, "but in the long run, it will fetch us big treasures."

Dr. Mahendra Patel, who has a doctorate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and another from the University of Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, wrote the book,Micro and Nanotechnology in Paper Manufacturing, as way to familiarize everyone with the concepts of nanotechnology, as well as cover the current application of and future initiatives of nanotechnology in the industry. Previously serving as the Director of The Pulp and Paper Research Institute and as Executive Secretary of Indian Pulp and Paper Technical Society, Patel also designed the book as a reference for related fields, using sections on forest products, printing and packaging as examples for other industries that might benefit from nanotechnology.

Ken Norris is a US based contributing editor to PPI magazine and the RISI community website and can be contacted at:knorris@quintstrategies.com