Nanocellulose, or micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC), had exciting properties that had attracted considerable interest from the food industry, Innventia research manager Mikael Ankerfors (pictured) told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“We’re talking about a transparent material that behaves like a gel at very low concentrations with fibrils 10-20 nanometres wide and about two microns long.
“It can be used as a stabiliser in dressings, a moisture retention agent in burgers and bread dough, a thickener in icing and all kinds of other things. It is also incredibly strong, so it can be used to make crackers, wafers and crisps crispier, for example.
“It is also heat stable up to 180 degrees celsius.”
The challenge was producing it in bulk without breaking the bank, said Ankerfors, who was speaking at a recent workshop on nanotechnology organised by Leatherhead Food Research.
“MFC has been known since the beginning of the 1980s, when they produced it from putting cellulosic fibres from wood pulp in high-pressure homogenisers.
"However, it was so expensive to produce because of the high energy levels required and problems with machinery clogging up that it never took off.”
Pre-treatment slashes production costs
Innventia has come up with a means of slashing production costs by introducing a pre-treatment phase involving “mechanical and enzyme treatment” prior to homogenisation that significantly reduced energy costs, prevented the material from clogging up equipment and produced a higher-quality end product, he claimed.
“We’re going to be capable of producing about 100kg a day from our pilot plant from October, but ultimately we’re looking for a partner to produce it on an industrial scale.”