Edmonton pilot plant to test ag fibre extract

Researchers in Edmonton plan to study the cellulose from flax, hemp and other crop fibres and wood pulp for the use of its extracts in a “super-strong” manufacturing material.

The federal and Alberta governments on Tuesday announced they will underwrite a $5.5 million pilot facility where researchers will process up to 100 kg per week of nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) for testing in commercial applications.

NCC, or cellulose in a crystalline form, can be extracted from plant material and processed into solid, liquid and gel forms. The NCC form retains features such as high strength, electromagnetic response and, at a “nano” scale, very large surface area, making it useful in nanotechnology applications, the governments said.

An ounce of NCC added to a pound of plastic can make a composite material up to 3,000 times stronger than the original plastic alone, the governments said, noting possible uses such as composite materials, high-strength fibres and textiles, pharmaceuticals, medical and dental applications, food and cosmetic additives or “enhanced” papers, packaging and building materials.

“With numerous sectors in Alberta that could benefit from NCC applications, this initiative will help increase our competitiveness and create jobs in our communities,” Edmonton-area MP Mike Lake said in a release from the federal/provincial Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA).

The project’s backers will include Alberta’s ministry of advanced education and technology, putting up $2 million; Western Economic Diversification Canada, with $2.5 million; the “Alberta Innovates: Technology Futures” programming framework for commercializing technology, with $850,000; and industry backers such as pulp miller Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac), with $200,000.

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