Our method of producing cellulose nanocrystals is based on transition metal catalyzed oxidation of lignocellulosic biomass. The chemistry is similar to the Fenton-Haber Weiss reaction cycle, a well-known chemical process. If you have the reactants in place, these reactions will occur spontaneously. In fact, there is a lot of time and money spent preventing these reactions from taking place where they are not wanted.
The real secret behind this process is radical generation. A radical is a chemical species that has an unpaired electron. They are extremely unstable and reactive. When you put biomass in this environment, these radicals take electrons away from it, and this exchange is called oxidation.
The process occurs in two oxidation stages with an alkaline extraction in the middle. The oxidation of biomass generates carboxylic acids, and the alkaline extraction makes them soluble and able to be washed from the cellulose.
Our process combines chemistry similar to pulp bleaching with material handling common in food production.
One of the nice things about the process is its simplicity. All that is required is proper mixing, temperature control and the right ratio of oxidant to biomass. Once you have that, all you need to do is wait. There is no problem with leaving it too long. It also signals to you when it is complete with a colour change.
Because this is an aqueous process, you don’t have to start with dry biomass. This offers a clear advantage for pulp mill integration, as brown or bleached stock can be fed directly to our process.