Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are known as nature’s latest wonder material. This renewable, sustainable, biodegradable and nontoxic nanomaterial can be extracted from cellulose fiber - the most abundant biopolymer on earth and competitively produced at an industrial-scale.
CNC possesses several attractive properties. In addition to its outstanding mechanical properties, high aspect ratio, high surface area and surface chemical reactivity, its remarkable colloidal stability in water makes facile solution processing possible. This extremely versatile material can be used as a reinforcing agent or chemically/physically modified to produce application-specific functionalities.
In her work, Debbie Wu used three different approaches to transform CNCs from an intrinsically insulating material into a highly conductive material. When used as an electrode material for supercapacitors, the prepared conductive CNCs demonstrated promising supercapacitive behavior with robust cycling stability. In one of the approaches, CNC was used as carbon precursor and carbonized to nanostructured carbon nanorod with high surface area and abundant pores. It was then shown to be an ideal substrate for synthesizing supported metal nanoparticle (MNP) catalysts. The supported metal catalysts displayed remarkable catalytic activity for 4-nitrophenol reduction and oxygen reduction reactions. In addition, the electrode modified with prepared Pt/PDa-NCNRs displayed favorable sensing capability towards non-enzymatic glucose detection with very low overpotential in neutral media.
This work is among the few pioneering studies to explore the potential of CNCs as highly conductive materials/composites for various electrochemical applications. It identifies many potential applications of CNCs and the findings will provide sustainable alternatives for the next generation energy storage, electrocatalysts and electrochemical sensors. It is also expected to contribute to the revival of Canada’s forestry industry by enabling production of high value-added wood-derived products.
After graduating from University of Waterloo, Debbie worked as a biosensor engineer with Medella Health. She is now an engineer in Myant’s Research and Development Department.