Innovation That Matters

Eco-friendly hydrogels and mouldings can be used in healthcare and biotech, among other possibilities | Photo source Takaaki Kasuga

Cellulose nanofibres could replace plastic


Researchers have developed a method for moulding biodegradable cellulose nanofibres using electrophoresis

Spotted: Single-use plastics have their uses — they save lives when used in medical equipment and can improve sanitation. However, only 9 per cent of all plastic gets properly recycled, and the rest takes tens to hundreds of years to break down, polluting oceans and clogging up landfills. But now, a research team at Japan’s Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (SANKEN) at Osaka University has developed new hydrogels, made from biodegradable cellulose nanofibres, that could replace conventional plastics.

Cellulose nanofibres are used by plants to help maintain rigid yet lightweight structures. They have also been used in synthetic tissue and other bioengineering contexts. However, up to now, it has proven difficult to mould nano-scale cellulose nanofibres onto multiple spatial axes. The SANKEN team, led by researcher Takaaki Kasuga, has found a way to use electrophoretic deposition to fabricate cellulose-nanofibre-based hydrogels and mouldings along different axes.

The technique allowed the researchers to easily prepare complex architectures, such as microneedles and mouthpiece moulds. Although there are many new ideas around recycling and repurposing plastic waste, according to Kasuga, “the only long-term solution is to develop inexpensive, high-performance, plastic-like alternatives that don’t persist in the environment. This is an active area of research, but the proposed alternatives to date haven’t met society’s needs.”

The global scale of plastic waste urgently requires diverse solutions and perspectives. Springwise has spotted a host of new innovations, including the use of bio-based plastics made from seaweed, and development of a recyclable bio-polyester foam for use in mattresses and car seats.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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