Value-Added Eucalyptus Pulp as Plastic Substitutes to Reduce Pollution
Chula Master in Engineering student’s research on turning the cellulose in eucalyptus pulp into plastic substitutes with added antiseptic property hopes to help lower cost, and branch out into various environmental and human-friendly products.
In a basic science classroom, we know cellulose as the main structure of plant cell membranes made by photosynthesis in nature. Cellulose is very absorbent, highly flexible, biodegradable, and not toxic to human cells. But, in a chemical engineering lab, “cellulose” can be more versatile.
“With these strengths, cellulose has been a topic of interest among researchers as one of the bio-based materials that can substitute plastic,” explained Mr. Bundhit Siripalawuttichai, a master’s degree student in Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University who has researched “Cellulose Nanocrystals and Amorphous Cellulose from Natural Fiber for Commercial Application”.
Previously, pineapple leaves and bagasse were agricultural byproducts used to be processed into industrial grade cellulose, but at a very high cost, and the process generates too much pollution. As a result, Bundhit chose to do his research on creating cellulose from bleached eucalyptus pulp to solve those problems.
“Normally, cellulose production uses agricultural byproducts like pineapple leaves or bagasse. The production process requires cleaning and bleaching the materials using prolonged heat, together with a lot of chemicals generating a tremendous amount of waste. The cost is high and, therefore, not commercially sound.
“So, for the research, we chose to use bleached eucalyptus pulp, which is readily available locally, and inexpensive. We can eliminate the cleaning and bleaching steps because these have already been done at the paper mills,” said Bundhit.
Eucalyptus pulp is a base material in the paper industry. It can be manufactured locally, does not cost much, and can be applied and add value to other products, such as packaging for medical equipment, or wastewater treatment.
“Apart from this, we mix in Cellulose ZnO Nanocomposite and Cellulose silver phosphate Nanocomposite for antiseptic property and enhanced adherence to surfaces.”
With these added properties, Bundhit believes that cellulose from eucalyptus can be expanded into a wide range of products such as spray for clothing and sanitary masks, acne patches, antibacterial wound patches, antifungal food packaging to prolong food shelf life, and supplements for environmentally friendly wastewater treatment processes.