Development of Sustainable Manufacturing Materials From Cellulose Based By-Products
Research Background and challenges:
According to WRAP a million tonnes of paper mill sludge (PMS) is produced annually from recycled fibre in the UK, which is typically used for low and moderate value applications such as land spreading and animal bedding. Paper mill sludge comprises of cellulose fibres and minerals. Cellulose is a highly abundant natural polymer which exhibits mechanical properties; advances in cellulose materials research reveals its desirable properties and opportunity to climb up the value chain for various applications. To understand the potential of upcycling PMS, a review of possible applications and PMS properties is carried out. The aim of the research is to develop a sustainable system, based on the conversion of cellulose by-products derived from paper manufacturing into value added products and businesses.
Key Findings and Impact to Date:
A comprehensive literature and background review of paper mill sludge (PMS) properties and material applications has led to the identification of a potential of 12 material applications. The key finding where as follows;
- PMS material applications can be grouped under mineral based (cement products) or fibre based (composite boards and polymer reinforcement) materials.
- The fibre based materials have a diverse range of industrial applications which show a higher value potential than current agricultural land spreading and mineral based materials.
- The PMS material applications are dependent on the characteristics of the sludge, which vary depending on the paper mill product and process.
- The characteristics of PMS is distinguished by these main factors; ash, cellulose, lignin, extractives and fibre lengths
This literature review lead to a second report on ‘Characterisation of PMS organic and inorganic contents’, this involved analysis of the paper sludge from the 7 mills associated with the research. The following actions have been undertaken;
- Research and design experimental methods for analyzing paper sludge characteristics
- Risk assessment and COSSH for applicable analysis
- Secure relevant materials, reagents and equipment for analysis Analysis on ash, extractives and fibre length is now being carried out on paper sludge samples, this will be repeated on subsequent batches of PMS. Cellulose and lignin will be determined upon availability of an equipment that is currently being serviced.
Experience on the Programme:
My first 15 months have been very busy as well as my research program which also involved visiting a number of paper mills to understand the processing and to obtain samples I have completed 5 taught modules. I have also attended a cohort week for researchers in sustainability from across the globe and the EPSRC CIM Conference on Industrial Sustainability in Cambridge where I won the best poster prize. With other researchers I entered the Ellen MacArthur hackathon on disruptive innovation and won the Philips Prize.
Tom Everitt, Group Compliance, Manager, Ecoganix
The project is a critical part of the research and development strategy in the current Ecoganix business plan. It has produced interesting data to date and shows great promise. The structure of the project coupled with exposure to the insight of field leading academics has helped to continually demonstrate relevance and value as it has progressed.