Creating solar cells and glass from wood – or a billion tons of biowaste
Researchers map out how biomass from plants could replace unrenewable resources in optical applications
‘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.
Because forest biomass is already in high demand and vast carbon sinks are crucial to the health of the planet, as a source of lignocellulose the researchers point to what’s not being used: more than a billion tons of biomass waste created by industry and agriculture each year.
‘There is massive untapped potential in the leftovers of lignocellulose from other industries,’ Vapaavuori emphasises.
For now, researchers are still studying bio-based materials and creating prototypes. At Aalto University, for example, scientists have developed light fibres and light-reactive fabrics.
Vapaavuori says that the leap to scaling-up and commercialisation could be achieved in two ways.
‘Either we create new uses for bio-based waste through government regulations or research brings about such cool demos and breakthroughs that it drives demand for renewable alternatives for optical applications. We believe that we need both political direction and solid research.’
A major obstacle in the development and commercialisation of lignocellulose-based innovations has been its manufacturing cost. Eyes were on nanocellulose already at the beginning of the 2000s but it’s only now that the energy consumption and cost of production have dropped enough to make industrial use possible. Another ongoing challenge lies in a simple but fundamental ingredient of processing: water.
‘Cellulose loves water. To use it in optical applications, we need to find a way make it stable in humid conditions,’ says Vapaavuori.
Other news from the department science
Replicating the structure of bird feathers
The new material could be used in batteries or filtration
Quantum tool opens door to uncharted phenomena
Method can contribute to a better understanding of quantum materials
Recovering instead of shredding: recycling batteries more efficiently
KIT researchers are working with industry to develop a more sustainable recycling process to recycle materials from lithium-ion batteries more effectively
Industry 4.0: No impact on energy consumption?
To what extent does the digitalisation of industrial and manufacturing processes (Industry 4.0) improve energy efficiency and thus reduce energy intensity?
New approach to the sensible utilisation of carbon dioxide from car exhaust gases
"A method has been discovered that uses impure CO2 streams and enables a breakthrough in the synthesis of valuable chemicals and pharmaceuticals"
Boosting PET recycling with higher standards for laboratory experiments
New study shows how enzymatic plastic degradation could be brought one step closer to commercialisation
Innovating Optoelectronic Components with Phosphorus
Significant breakthrough: phosphorus chemists develop new method to selectively introduce phosphorus and nitrogen atoms into polyaromatic systems
Artificial intelligence finds ways to develop new drugs
The chemists tested the process using borylation – a reaction that activates hydrocarbon scaffolds
X-rays reveal how glasses lose their stability
PETRA III experiment shows how atoms in glass behave as weaknesses appear
Understanding the strength development mechanism of chemically treated sandy soil
Researchers provide insights into how the chemical injection process increases soil strength, paving the way to advancement of next-generation construction
Researchers obtain promising results against capacity loss in vanadium batteries
A computational study conducted in Brazil could help extend the working lives of these batteries, which are widely used by utilities and manufacturers
Making better use of residual gases
Award for invention for environmentally friendly adsorption of chlorine
Most read news
Plastic-eating bacteria turn waste into useful starting materials for other products
Microbial Upcycling of Waste PET
Microbes could help reduce the need for chemical fertilizers
A coating protects nitrogen-fixing bacteria: Start-up to commercialise coated bacteria for large-scale use in regenerative agriculture
New designs for solid-state electrolytes may soon revolutionize the battery industry
Scientists achieve monumental improvements in lithium-metal-chloride solid-state electrolytes
Dow and Evonik announce startup of hydrogen peroxide to propylene glycol (HPPG) pilot plant
Innovative technology offer flexibility, lower costs, and a smaller environmental footprint
This is a battery
Two colored liquids bubbling through tubes: Is this what the battery of the future looks like?
Inauguration of the world’s first pilot plant for the cost-efficient production of green methanol
Start-up C1 Green Chemicals AG and research partners develop fundamentally new production process
Converting PFAS “forever chemicals” into valuable compounds
Scientists develop a new method to incorporate harmful perfluoroalkenes into N-heterocyclic carbene ligands
Graphene's proton permeability: A switch for future energy technologies
This discovery could lead to the development of more efficient hydrogen fuel cells and solar water-splitting devices
Lithium-ion batteries are no longer the gold standard in battery tech
On the way to safer and more powerful energy sources
Not so silver lining: Microplastics found in clouds could affect the weather
Low-altitude and denser clouds contained greater amounts of microplastics
CO2-free hydrogen: BASF receives funding approval for 54-megawatt water electrolysis plant
Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer expected to produce up to 8,000 metric tons of hydrogen per year
More news from our other portals
Bowel cancer: aspirin activates protective genes
Researchers have identified a signaling pathway by which aspirin can inhibit colorectal cancer.
Dunning-Kruger effect with muesli bars
Those who know the least consider themselves highly competent
Autonomous measuring instruments systematically detect new materials
A new algorithm measures materials libraries up to four times faster than before: It’s based on machine learning
New drug delivery system could reduce daily diabetes shots to just three a year
Dietary management drugs have transformed Type 2 diabetes care, but daily injection routines are challenging for some patients
Naked Clams: The New Superfood Sensation Emerging from the Depths
Researchers found Naked Clams contain almost twice the amount of Vitamin B12 as blue mussels and have developed an efficient way to farm them
Aston University technology to combat the not-so sweet practice of honey fraud
Light technology to be used to detect if honey is blended with cheap additions
Pushers, overcrowded trains and phone zombies
Sprite presents the world's first vending machine that responds to the things that bother Generation Z the most
Researchers discover new ultra strong material for microchip sensors
A material that doesn't just rival the strength of diamonds and graphene, but boasts a yield strength 10 times greater than Kevlar
How stem cells and immune cells communicate
Lisec Artz Award for Simon Haas: Groundbreaking discovery of an unknown protective mechanism against blood cancer from stem cells
Viral Impostors: Breakthrough for Virus Research
The penetration of viruses into cells can now be tracked with unprecedented accuracy thanks to innovative design for pseudoviruses
From the trough to the plate - digitally calculated
Computer program "ConTrans" estimates how much of an undesirable substance is transferred from animal feed to food
Fatty acid factory filmed at work
High-resolution images provide new insights into cellular fatty acid production: Potential for medicine and biotechnology
Tracking down Environmental Toxins
Detection of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by interrupted energy transfer
The weight of pollution: exposure linked to obesity
Chronic exposure to environmental pollutants found to increase risk of cardiovascular disease
Tönnies Group launches first nationwide "Meat Climate Platform"
100 guests at the Future Forum for Agriculture
Scientists use quantum biology, AI to sharpen genome editing tool
"This study represents an exciting advancement toward, understanding how we can avoid making costly ‘typos’ in an organism’s genetic code"
Textbook knowledge turned on its head: 3-in-1 microorganism discovered
Newly multifunctional bacterial species
Could eating turkey ease colitis?
According to data in mice, extra tryptophan could reduce the risk of future colitis flares