Future Materials | 18.09.2023

The NOVUM Project – Cellulose as Functional Additive

A Short Introduction

In 2017, several companies and research facilities decided to combine their abilities for tackling the challenge of developing new cellulose based material, suitable for diverse manufacturing processes.

They were motivated by the inefficient production of electrical insulation components, where cellulose is often used as raw material for insulating power transformers. In order to manufacture the components for individually designed power transformer units, special metal moulds have to be created following a complex, multi-stage workflow.
Facilitating this labour and energy intensive process was the spark to the NOVUM project, which got funding from the EU Horizon 2020.

The idea condensed in creating a thermoplastic, cellulose based material, suitable for additive manufacturing. If other processing methods would be applicable, even the better!

Nearly 5 Years Later - What now?

Much has been achieved by the project partners, coordinated by Heli Kangas from the Finnish research organisation VTT.

Not only a thermoplastic, cellulose based material has been developed, but also a whole new manufacturing concept was created. Therefore, the companies ABIS and Brinter collaborated closely in design, engineering and upscaling. The complete pilot line for additive manufacturing of large-scale parts will be assembled in Finland beginning 2022.

While researching the depths of cellulose material formulations and additive manufacturing technology, the project partners also broadened their horizon for other end applications. Besides Hitachi ABB Power Grids, looking for novel insulation technologies, Meyer Turku and CRF joined with high interest in NOVUM project potential. The shipbuilding company and the automotive research facility both look for innovative materials for the production of sustainable, but yet functional components.

What now?
What now?

Back to Cellulose - The NOVUM Material

Ever tried to melt a tree? If so, it surely resulted in some kind of hopefully controlled fire and smoke.
As cellulose is one of the main components of living plants, you might easily guess: Cellulose is definitely not a thermoplastic material. To win cellulose for the thermoplastics, modifications have to be made. This is done via substituting cellulose polymer with various ester groups. Today, commercially available materials are for example cellulose acetate (CAc), cellulose acetate propionate (CAP) or cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB). Those cellulose esters were the basis for NOVUM developments, but still lacking many desired properties, like sufficient processability for additive manufacturing, or fire retardancy.

Plasticizers in form long chain (C16-C189 alkyl substituted cellulose esters, our microcrystalline cellulose and other low dosage functional additives complete the ingredients list for the NOVUM material.
After extensive formulation studies, a thermoplastic cellulose based composite material with attractive properties was found. It is not only perfectly suited for large-scale 3D printing, but also injection molding, offering an even wider field of applications.
Our microcrystalline cellulose, a chemically pure and crystalline cellulose product, serves the purpose of mechanical properties fine-tuning as a functional, plant based filler.

Notably, the NOVUM material is fit for recycling and research for improving fireproof behavior is underway.

This project has already been completed. For any further questions please contact VVT: https://www.linkedin.com/company/vtt/

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Simon Ritter
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