COLLABORATION NEEDS A COMMON LANGUAGE
Nanocellulose may be the paper of the future. At CTP in Grenoble, researchers are developing new testing methods at nano scale, working together with fellow paper innovators through standards committees and workshops.
It might be one of the oldest inventions in the world, but paper can be innovative too. Paper manufacturers are continuously innovating their products, updating their packaging to improve recyclability, or to be otherwise more environment-friendly.
“We do a lot of research into toilet paper,” offers Sylvie Moreau-Tabiche as an example. She heads the Materials Performance team at Centre Technique du Papier (CTP) in Grenoble, a French research centre specialising in pulp and paper. “We have a whole lab set up to test the solubility of toilet paper. And we're also looking at other innovations in hygiene products, such as wet wipes,” she explains with a straight face.
“We decided to develop standards as soon as we had to work together with others.”
CENTRE TECHNIQUE DU PAPIER (CTP), Grenoble, France
A more cutting-edge research project currently running at CTP is the development of nanocellulosic materials. CTP started this project on their own initiative. “We are working on creating more sustainable and recyclable packaging, and we want to avoid plastic products as much as possible. That's why we started developing innovative products from cellulose, which is a basic, natural product.”
Cellulose is basically wood fibres. And nanocellulose is cellulose for which at least one the dimensions is at nanoscale. “To measure properties at that scale is not so easy,” Moreau-Tabiche points out. “That's one of the reasons why we are working in standardization. We're trying to find the best testing method to determine dimensions.”
What kinds of properties are they trying to measure at CTP? “Well,” she says, “for example, moisture content, and basis weight. These are basic properties that we need to be able to characterise. You want to put the right information on the label. Because in the end, all the new products we are inventing every day will be sold. And to be sold, they need to be tested. And to test them, we need standards.”
The team at CTP decided to involve standardization early in the project, because Grenoble is not the only place in the world where this type of research is taking place. “Other countries like Canada, Japan, Sweden are also producing nanocellulosic materials,” Moreau-Tabiche explains.
“So we decided to get involved in standardization and to develop standards as soon as we had the need to speak with others, and to work together with others on those new products. And that's what we are doing in the standardization working groups. We are developing standards dedicated to those new products.”
Several standards on chemical properties of nanocellulose have already been created, and several working groups are adapting existing standards to the new products. Other stakeholders are people from the pulp and paper industry, safety institutions and testing laboratories, and other producers of nano- and micro cellulosic materials.
Moreau-Tabiche is a fervent proponent of standardization as a means to enable smoother collaborative research. “Innovation needs standardization, because researchers need to be able to speak the same language. Agreeing on certain key things is necessary for success. And being part of a community of experts accelerates innovation.”
It is fair to say that CTP are literally inventing the paper of the future. Valid and reliable testing is an essential part of their process, as is international collaboration. Moreau-Tabiche: “And that's why we are working in standardization. To find the best testing method to determine dimensions. Reliable, standardized testing methods are required when performing collaborative research.”