National Research Council of Canada leads in emerging areas of nanotechnology

- Ottawa, Ontario

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC), through its Metrology Research Centre, offers innovative technology and high-performance laboratories that address new areas of metrology. Among others, the centre is focussing on nanoscale measurement, which involves the characterization and standardization of manufactured nanomaterials, and in particular, cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs).

Cellulose nanocrystals

Atomic force microscopy image of cellulose nanocrystals extracted from wood pulp.

What are cellulose nanocrystals

CNCs are tiny, rod-shaped particles composed of crystalline cellulose. They are primarily derived from wood but can also be extracted from other plant materials, and from bacteria and algae. CNCs are the most abundant natural biopolymer (complex, chain-like molecules made up of repeating chemical blocks) found in nature. In addition to being renewable and sustainable, CNCs provide an eco-friendly alternative to oil-based products.

CNCs have high mechanical strength, high surface area and thermal stability. Their ability to take various forms, such as gels and films, has triggered a wave of recent activities aimed at turning nanocellulose into commercial products in diverse areas, including composite materials, biomedical applications, and paints, coatings and packaging.

Certified reference materials

Given their unique properties, CNCs are poised to penetrate numerous markets. The Metrology Research Centre is supporting Canada's leadership position in the production of CNCs by recently releasing two unique certified reference materials (CRMs) to further develop and support CNC material for the Canadian economy. These highly homogeneous CRMs are used to benchmark performance evaluations and to ensure that testing protocols return accurate information – regardless of where or when the testing is performed.

Development of standards

The NRC also supports the commercialization of cellulosic nanomaterials by its involvement in the development of documentary standards. On behalf of the Standards Council of Canada, the NRC is leading the development of a technical report on CNCs with the International Standards Organization (ISO). The report will provide a framework for future development of international standards for CNCs and for nanocellulose-enhanced products, facilitating their entry into global markets.

Developing technical specifications and standards for new products assists industry to improve operations and become more efficient. Standards help break down barriers to international trade and open up global markets. In addition, conformity to standards reassures consumers that new products are safe and do not pose a risk to either humans or the environment.

For example, the Canadian Forestry Service (CFS), looking to promote this next wave of technology development in the forestry/pulp and paper sector, is providing external support to the NRC for its standards work, recognizing that international standards are essential in ensuring the adoption of Canadian products in the global marketplace.

With its work in nanotechnology, the NRC is helping to ensure a safe transition toward the development of these new products and is achieving quality levels that are recognized world-wide.

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