As a new boy in the world of cellulose fibrils, I am steadily getting an overview of what potential users of cellulose fibrils are interested in. The unique combination of properties that cellulose fibrils has is the obvious point most are interested in. In addition, the natural and renewable aspect to the material and the possibility to replace oil-based chemicals is becoming more and more important. But could there be more than that?
I have been working many years with manufacturing and sales of other Borregaard cellulose products, where manufacturing output at ever increasing speeds but at stable, highest quality is the fundamental mantra. It occurs to me that very few seem to have thought of testing cellulose fibrils with the primary aim of achieving a positive effect on “processability” – and hence potential for cutting unit production cost whilst maintaining or improving quality. I believe they should.
Properties that can affect the processability
I’m sure that you are familiar with the key properties of cellulose fibrils. It is shear thinning, so mixtures containing it are possible to pump or spray despite having a high still-standing viscosity, it consequentially doesn’t drip when it hits a surface, and a spray can potentially be better controlled so that it hits only the part you want to apply it to. All these are quickly imagined into consumer benefits and product performance by the product developer, but what about the process engineer?
Same applies for the other documented properties of cellulose fibrils, like a stable rheological profile over a wide range of temperature, as well over the wide pH range and in the presence of ions and surfactants. It also has a huge water holding capacity. There is a myriad of production processes and process sub-operations, running at different pHs and temperatures, with different chemical compositions, so cellulose fibrils is definitely robust enough to have a good chance of compatibility with any given (polar) system.
So, where to see potential in my process?
So then it comes down to imagining the scenarios where the properties of cellulose fibrils could be of benefit. Where in your process do you use in-situ generated, water based formulations that you can optimize? Where could the drying time be cut should you use less of the formulation and you consequentially have to evaporate less to do the same job? Where could more accurate spraying or nozzle application reduce waste or improve quality? Which of your in-situ prepared mixtures could the addition of cellulose fibrils instead of, or in combination with, your current rheology modifier or active ingredient lead to you using less totally because of the properties of cellulose fibrils? Which of our factory formulations varies in viscosity due to the prevailing temperature?
There are certainly many more scenarios than these few in processes around the world where waste could be cut, processing energy saved and bottle-neck operations speeded up if cellulose fibrils is applied in the right part of the process. It is also clear that efficiencies gained in one area may lead to further process optimization possibilities and efficiencies in the next area, so there are multiple areas from which to derive value simultaneously.
There is of course no gain without pain, and to achieve any productivity increases, testing and experimenting always has to be done to optimize the processes for finished product quality and total cost. There would be more to introducing cellulose fibrils than just adding the product to the current situation, or directly replacing a given additive. The concentration or presence of other additives, cheap or expensive, should be optimized for the performance of its function; minimum volumes of formulations needed to be applied to achieve product quality need to be found; and machine speeds challenged, not left unchanged without testing.
To my mind, this is an appeal to all the Process Engineers, process-oriented Researchers, or Management of manufacturing-based companies out there. Don’t just leave cellulose fibrils to the product developers (who by the way does a great job with it!). You are the experts on your manufacturing processes. Think how the multiple special properties of cellulose fibrils could help you debottleneck your process, enable a steadier process and add value by speeding up your machines, decreasing your energy input or decreasing waste to drive unit cost down.