The Canadian forestry industry could hinge on the most abundant nanomaterial on earth.

A pale grey slurry roils about in a waist-high blue plastic drum at the centre of a garage-like space at the National Research Council’s Biotechnology Research Institute in Montreal. It looks a little like slush, but when it is dried it more closely resembles one of the fine white powders chefs stock in their kitchens. For the handful of chemists hovering about the room, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. For Canada’s faltering forestry industry, it is a beacon of optimism.

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) is nature’s Superman fibre; it is stronger than steel, lightweight and durable; its unique optical qualities make it desirable for use in everything from cosmetics and sunscreens to security documents, switchable optical filters, coatings and adhesives, and its anti-microbial properties open the door for a bunch of medical applications. All that from a little crystal made from tree trunks.

It’s no surprise then that the Canadian forestry industry–straining under a slumped U.S. housing market and pricing pressures from developing countries–has high hopes that this possibly miraculous crystal will be their ticket to stage a much-needed comeback. The question now is, can this superhero compound make the leap from the lab, to large-scale production and into the marketplace?

Read more in the April 2011 issue of Canadian Chemical News.

Written by Hannah

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