Isolation of Mixed Compositions of Cellulose Nanocrystals, Microcrystalline Cellulose, and Lignin Nanoparticles from Wood Pulps

Tiffany Abitbol, Mikaela Kubat, Elisabet Brännvall, Nikolay Kotov, C. Magnus Johnson, Rustem Nizamov, Mikael Nyberg, Kati Miettunen, Niklas Nordgren, Jasna S. Stevanic and Maria Pita Guerreiro

ACS Omega 8, 21474 (2023)
From a circular economy perspective, one-pot strategies for the isolation of cellulose nanomaterials at a high yield and with multifunctional properties are attractive. Here, the effects of lignin content (bleached vs unbleached softwood kraft pulp) and sulfuric acid concentration on the properties of crystalline lignocellulose isolates and their films are explored. Hydrolysis at 58 wt % sulfuric acid resulted in both cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) and microcrystalline cellulose at a relatively high yield (>55%), whereas hydrolysis at 64 wt % gave CNCs at a lower yield (<20%). CNCs from 58 wt % hydrolysis were more polydisperse and had a higher average aspect ratio (1.5–2×), a lower surface charge (2×), and a higher shear viscosity (100–1000×). Hydrolysis of unbleached pulp additionally yielded spherical nanoparticles (NPs) that were <50 nm in diameter and identified as lignin by nanoscale Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and IR imaging. Chiral nematic self-organization was observed in films from CNCs isolated at 64 wt % but not from the more heterogeneous CNC qualities produced at 58 wt %. All films degraded to some extent under simulated sunlight trials, but these effects were less pronounced in lignin-NP-containing films, suggesting a protective feature, but the hemicellulose content and CNC crystallinity may be implicated as well. Finally, heterogeneous CNC compositions obtained at a high yield and with improved resource efficiency are suggested for specific nanocellulose uses, for instance, as thickeners or reinforcing fillers, representing a step toward the development of application-tailored CNC grades.