Nanocellulose-composite films with various optical functionalities.
Photo: Derya Atas/Aalto University
Researchers map out how biomass from plants could replace unrenewable resources in optical applications
A digital, urbanised world consumes huge amounts of raw materials that could hardly be called environmentally friendly. One promising solution may be found in renewable raw materials, according to research published in Advanced Materials. In their paper, the international research group has taken a close look at how lignocellulose — or plant biomass — can be used for optical applications, potentially replacing commonly used materials like sand and plastics.
‘We wanted to map out as comprehensively as possible how lignocellulose could replace the unrenewable resources found in widely used technology, like smart devices or solar cells,’ says Jaana Vapaavuori, assistant professor of functional materials at Aalto University, who carried out the analysis with colleagues at the University of Turku, RISE – Research Institute of Sweden, and University of British Columbia.
Lignocellulose, the term that encompasses cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, is found in nearly every plant on Earth. When scientists break it down into very small parts and put it back together, they can create totally new, usable materials.
In their extensive review of the field, the researchers assessed the various manufacturing processes and characteristics needed for optical applications, for example, transparency, reflectiveness, UV-light filtering, as well as structural colours.
‘Through combining properties of lignocellulose, we could create light-reactive surfaces for windows or materials that react to certain chemicals or steam. We could even make UV protectors that soak up radiation, acting like a sunblock on surfaces,’ explains Vapaavuori.
‘We can actually add functionalities to lignocellulose and customise it more easily than glass. For instance, if we could replace the glass in solar cells with lignocellulose, we could improve light absorption and achieve better operating efficiency,’ says Kati Miettunen, professor of materials engineering at the University of Turku.
Original Article: Creating solar cells and glass from wood – or a billion tons of biowaste
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