Nanotechnology and nanomaterials may be used in a variety of applications and processes to transform wood and paper products.

For example, nanotechnology can produce coatings that alter wood's structure to increase its resistance to ultraviolet light, and that create paper and wood fibres that conduct electricity. These coatings could also be used to improve the quality of paper, by enhancing its brightness and porousness, or by modifying other characteristics such as opacity, transparency, printability, colourfastness and water permeability.

Repellants developed using nanotechnology penetrate wood's structure far more effectively than conventional treatments, preventing decay, fungus, and swelling and shrinking due to moisture. They are also resistant to cleaning products and high-pressure washers.

Canadian wood products that feature advanced nanotechnology applications would be distinguished from low-cost alternatives produced by foreign manufacturers, helping to stem the flow of these alternatives into markets traditionally supplied by the Canadian forest sector.

In addition, advancements due to nanotechnology are making it possible for forestry companies to protect the environment more effectively. For example, nanofiltration -- the selective separation of ions -- can reduce the level of effluents in the wastewater from pulp and paper mills, enabling the industry to recycle more wastewater and consume less fresh water.

Nanocrystalline Cellulose

Through investments in innovative technologies, the forest sector is now poised to take advantage of a wide range of new and promising forest-derived products with the potential to create new markets for Canadian wood producers.

One of these products is nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). Extracted from wood fibre, NCC offers tensile strength and environmental benefits that can be used to improve existing industrial products, such as textiles, papers, plastics and specialized coatings.

Through Natural Resources Canada's (NRCan) Transformative Technologies Research Program, FPInnovations has developed a process to economically extract NCC from wood. Once extracted, the NCC is processed into solid flake, liquid or gel forms, which can then be used to create biocomposites, bioplastics, iridescent coatings, wear-resistant surface treatments and more.

The next stage in the commercialization of NCC is the construction of a pilot plant at Domtar's mill in Windsor, Quebec, capable of producing larger quantities of NCC to enable further product testing and market development. Funded by NRCan's Transformative Technology Pilot Scale Demonstration and the Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Programs ($23.2M) and the Government of Quebec ($10.2M), the pilot plant will produce one tonne of NCC per day out of hardwood kraft pulp. It will be the first facility in the world at this scale and will pave the way for the creation of renewable industrial and consumer forest products.