Optical applications rely on raw materials such as plastics and sand, most of which are neither sustainable nor renewable. Given their wide reach and increasing use in everyday life, more sustainable and renewable alternatives to the raw material used in optical applications are the need of the hour. A new study has pointed towards lignocellulose as a renewable raw material alternative for optical applications.
What is Lignocellulose?
Also known as plant biomass, lignocellulose is a term that represents lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose derived from plants. It is present in almost all plants and is commonly used for the production of biofuels. This plant biomass can be further classified into three types – virgin biomass, energy crops, and waste biomass.
The research conducted by an international team noted that when lignocellulose is broken down and reassembled, it can lead to creating new and usable materials.
“We wanted to map out as comprehensively as possible how lignocellulose could replace the unrenewable resources found in widely used technology, like smart devices or solar cells,” said Jaana Vapaavuori, assistant professor of functional materials at Aalto University, and one of the authors of this study.”Through combining the properties of lignocellulose, we could create light-reactive surfaces for windows or materials that react to certain chemicals or steam. We could even make UV protectors that soak up radiation, acting like a sunblock on surfaces.” [sic]
The team points towards waste biomass as a potential source of this application of lignocellulose. Agriculture and other industries generate over a billion tonnes of waste biomass annually. On the other hand, virgin biomass is already in high demand.
One of the challenges of putting lignocellulose to use has been its affinity to water. “Cellulose loves water. To use it in optical applications, we need to find a way to make it stable in humid conditions,” added Vapaavuori. Another challenge for plant biomass-based innovations and their commercialisation used to be the cost of production. But today, industrial use is a possibility due to lower manufacturing costs.
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