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Paper mill waste makes a high-performance foam

Israel – A researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed a method of producing industrial foams from paper mill waste.

Dr Shaul Lapidot and his laboratory colleagues have formulated a procedure for production of nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC) from paper mill waste. NCC is further processed into composite foams for applications in the composite materials industry, as an organic substitute for synthetic foams.

The process of paper production involves the loss of all fibres of smaller size than the forming fabric mesh, which means around 50% of the fibres initially produced are washed away as sludge. The papermaking industry generates 11 million tonnes of waste per year in Europe alone, creating an incentive to find practical applications.

NCC foams that Lapidot and his colleagues have recently developed are highly porous and lightweight. Additional strengthening of the foams was achieved by infiltration of furan resin, a hemicellulose-based resin produced from raw crop waste such as residues from sugar cane processing, oat hulls, rice hulls and corn cobs.

The NCC-reinforced foams are claimed to match the technical performance of current high-end synthetic foams. Melodea, an Israeli-Swedish start-up company, has licensed the technology from Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University, and aims to develop the process for industrial-scale production.

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