Coarse coir, the poorer cousin of softer natural fibres, could be the source of relatively lower cost nanomaterials with high-end applications, say scientists.
At a paper presented at the international seminar held in Alappuzha, Kerala on Tuesday as part of the Coir Kerala 2015, Orlando J. Rojas from Finland’s Aalto University detailed the ongoing research on the extraction of nanocellulose from lignin-rich fibres such as coir and its wide-ranging applications.
Coir, which has relatively less of the soft cellulose and more of the harder lignin in its fibres, is not often considered a candidate for the production of nanocellulose, which is mainly extracted from wood pulp.
Rojas said nanocellulose with lignin has highly desirable properties that can be leveraged for applications including decontaminating waste with heavy metal toxins, in food packaging, in the automotive industry, in cosmetics, as insulating foams and aerogels, as anti-microbials, anti-fungals and even mosquito repellents, and to develop composite materials.
“There are lots of companies in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan producing nanocellulose and investing heavily in R&D because it will be a very interesting material in the future, but I want to see a company produce this from coir, because it is possible,” said Rojas.
“The biggest advantage of coir is that it is cheaper than most other fibres and is a completely sustainable resource,” he added.
Rob Elias, director of the Biocomposite Centre at Britain’s Bangor University detailed the huge possibilities of marketing natural fibre-based materials in Europe.
“The European bio-economy is worth an estimated two trillion euros, with 22 million jobs and there is a lot of investment in R&D and industrial collaboration. There is great potential here for coir-containing bioplastic composites,” he said.
He cited areas for coir research that could be of relevance to this large European market, including combination with other fibres, use of thermoset bioresins, applications in construction and food packaging.
Elias also urged coir researchers in India to take advantage of the funding offered through the India-UK Collaborative Industrial R&D Programme under which industries can bid for funding.(IANS)