functional features to the end products. The NFC-based products now under development lay the foundations for revolutionising existing papermaking processes and developing new processes that will only be possible with NFC. The use of NFC at the wet end is studied to determine whether its strength can be increased in combination with a new product design and, if so, how this could be done. Synthetic binders will be replaced by NFC in the coating of paper surfaces to influence the traditional coating layer properties as required for specific purposes. VTT in Finland is developing foam coating as a new surface application method for fibre-based webs in the KCL’s pilot plant together with several SUNPAP partners. The new application method uses special features of NFC, film-forming properties and the high specific surface area. The foam coating under development will apply a thin, uniform coating layer of special-purpose particles.
The health and safety issues of NFC production, application and end products will be studied in cooperation with all the other research groups. At the same time, the impacts of the products on recycling behaviour and occupational health and safety must also be taken into consideration. Cellulose as such is considered a safe natural material, but the characteristics of NFC differ slightly from those of cellulose. In addition, nanocellulose has three properties that are associated, to some extent, with pathogenicity in particles. First, the nano form of cellulose can have a higher level of toxicity than larger-sized particles. Second, they are fibres and may therefore behave like asbestos and other pathogenic fibres, which have toxicity associated with their needle-like shape. As a third point, they are expected to be bio-persistent in humans. The testing methodology suggested for the risk assessment of NFC includes in vitro cytotoxicity and immunotoxicity tests to give an indication of whether NFC will cause cellular damage and whether systemic effects are likely. In addition, a nematode model-based test organism is used to investigate potential systemic effects and neurotoxicity. As exposure to NFC is likely to be through inhalation, an inhalatory toxicity study on animals is planned for inclusion. This ensures that new packaging, and graphic and specialty papers will be able to be produced in an even more sustainable way in the future in Europe.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement n° 228802. The EU will cover almost 70% of the 9.8 million € research costs. The collaborative project will run until June 2012. Most of the project work will be carried out in Finland, Germany and France at research centres committed to the regeneration of forest industries (VTT, PTS and CTP). The industrial partners – and future beneficiaries of project results on an industrial scale – are Stora Enso, Ahlstrom, UPM-Kymmene, Felix Schoeller, Poyry and J. Rettenmaier & Sohne. The SUNPAP project consortium consists of twenty-two partners from eight European countries: Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Austria and the UK, and they are all EU-member states. The partners include six research organizations, four universities, four SMEs and eight large industrial companies.