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Too good to be true?
August 27, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

NewScientist is reporting new way of processing wood pulp making new wonder construction material. [snip] To ramp up production, the US opened its first NCC factory in Madison, Wisconsin, on 26 July, marking the rise of what the US National Science Foundation predicts will become a $600 billion industry by 2020. So why all the fuss? Well, not only is NCC transparent but it is made from a tightly packed array of needle-like crystals which have a strength-to-weight ratio that is eight times better than stainless steel. Even better, it's incredibly cheap.
posted by aleph (98 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was led to believe that this would involve aluminum.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:03 PM on August 27, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'll admit it, I needed this little bit of optimism today. Gracias
posted by slapshot57 at 2:05 PM on August 27, 2012


Those of us in parts of the world where brutal destruction of our unique old growth native forests has slowed in recent years due to declining demand for wood pulp look on in excitement...I guess...

I'm going to look closely into what sort of pulp they want to use to make it, anyway.
posted by Jimbob at 2:05 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jimbob: "The beauty of this material is that it is so abundant we don't have to make it," says Youngblood. "We don't even have to use entire trees; nanocellulose is only 200 nanometres long. If we wanted we could use twigs and branches or even sawdust. We are turning waste into gold.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Jimbob, in the spirit of optimism, I'm going to suggest that this kind of processing is going to want consistency in the feedstock, thus favouring farmed wood.

OTOH, it would also be great if you could toss any old waste vegetable-matter in the hopper and get a new house out the other end...
posted by anonymisc at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Came in here for an aluminium joke, wasn't disappointed.

Nerds, the lot of you.

I would be curious to know what its carbon footprint is like. Does this have the potential to lock atmospheric CO2 away in building materials?
posted by Leon at 2:09 PM on August 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


ah yes, high temperature pykrete.
posted by boo_radley at 2:09 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


the technology to explore its properties, such as electron scanning microscopes, only emerged in the last decade or so.

Fuckin' a, New Scientist, you suck sometimes.
posted by 7segment at 2:10 PM on August 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Computer...computer......"
posted by Fizz at 2:10 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll see your "transparent aluminum" and raise you a transparisteel!
posted by cthuljew at 2:11 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


nanocellulose is only 200 nanometres long.

Lung infections, here we come!
posted by furtive at 2:12 PM on August 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


This is sounding way too good to be true. What's the catch?
posted by milkb0at at 2:14 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


7segment: "the technology to explore its properties, such as electron scanning microscopes, only emerged in the last decade or so.

Fuckin' a, New Scientist, you suck sometimes.
"

I'm guessing they were talking about Atomic Force Microscopy, which hasn't been used in industry for much more than a decade... (SEM, on the other hand, is practically ancient at this point)
posted by schmod at 2:14 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Materials science is one underrated science. Amazing.
posted by Dasein at 2:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Production of NCC starts with "purified" wood, which has had compounds such as lignin and hemicellulose removed. It is then milled into a pulp and hydrolysed in acid to remove impurities before being separated and concentrated as crystals into a thick paste that can be applied to surfaces as a laminate or processed into strands, forming nanofibrils.

If you have ever spent much time around a paper mill, that sentence should make you a little skeptical about this stuff.

It sounds interesting, though; I would like to be wrong about this.
posted by TedW at 2:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


"It is the natural, renewable version of a carbon nanotube at a fraction of the price," says Jeff Youngblood of Purdue University's NanoForestry Institute in West Lafayette, Indiana.

1. Wait. What?

2. "NanoForestry"? Badass.

3. We can haz space elevator nao?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I grow microbial cellulose for use as a paper creation stock, and I'm super excited about this development. Nano-fiber scale cellulose is insanely strong and has all sorts of amazing properties, which is one of the reasons I work with it- to see this happening properly in a scientific way and making real use of this is absolutely a dream come true.

cellulose can be obtained from pretty much any plant matter; wood has more lignins than others, but it would be easier to feed in old weeds or any such thing and pull out the cellulose. talk about WOW! It's like a real-life Mr. Fusion.

Digging for white papers and background info on this whole subject, right now!
posted by EricGjerde at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm guessing they were talking about Atomic Force Microscopy, which hasn't been used in industry for much more than a decade.

I'm guessing so, too. My point remains.
posted by 7segment at 2:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


How flammable will it be?
posted by srboisvert at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2012


This is sounding way too good to be true. What's the catch?

The stuff tastes terrible!
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


Step 1: Nanocrystalline cellulose
Step 2: Suitcase-sized micro refinery, accepts any old vege matter
Step 3: a 3D-printier attachment.

Step 4: Superglass future :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of lyocell, which makes for some good bedsheets.
posted by mullacc at 2:26 PM on August 27, 2012


gotta have air to be flammable.... if it's airtight, hard to burn!
posted by EricGjerde at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2012


If you have ever spent much time around a paper mill, that sentence should make you a little skeptical about this stuff.

I'm always reminded of a passage I read in the paper when I was a kid. It concerns a man who was downriver and standing on a bridge when a "white liquor" tank ruptured at Maine paper mill.
"You could see the suckers [sucker fish] trying to crawl out of the stream."
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:28 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last month I was in Madison and drove past the Forest Service building on the UW campus. I remember thinking "What does the Forest Service need with an industrial sized lab?"
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:29 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


My father helped build the Skeena Cellulose mill back in the mid-60's. He had many interesting stories to tell about the absolute environmental degradation involved in the pulp and paper process, although he did say that one of the products of the pulp mill was rocket fuel used to launch Minute Man missiles.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:31 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you wanted a ton of cellulose, wouldn't bamboo be the ideal crop? The stuff practically grows like a weed.
posted by schmod at 2:31 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


DOES THIS CAUSE CANCER?
posted by cjorgensen at 2:32 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Too good to be true?

Glue wood to see through!
posted by chavenet at 2:32 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I remember thinking "What does the Forest Service need with an industrial sized lab?"

Same thing God needs with a starship.

LOOK SOMEBODY ELSE STARTED THE STAR TREK REFERENCES, DONT BLAME ME
posted by entropicamericana at 2:34 PM on August 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Lung infections, here we come!

From the article:
In addition, the human body can deal with cellulose safely, says Jones, so NCC is less dangerous to process than inorganic composites. "The worst thing that could happen is a paper cut," he says.

I don't buy it...for a start, you could hit someone over the head with it. Does it get stuck in your lungs? Even wood dust isn't great for you.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:35 PM on August 27, 2012


"The stuff practically grows like a weed."

Or, you could use an actual weed!

"About 33% of all plant matter is cellulose (the cellulose content of cotton fiber is 90%, that of wood is 40–50% and that of dried hemp is approximately 75%).
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 2:36 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


The stuff practically grows like a weed

You know what grows like a weed? MY WEEDS.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:36 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


"About 33% of all plant matter is cellulose (the cellulose content of cotton fiber is 90%, that of wood is 40–50% and that of dried hemp is approximately 75%).

Have you ever built a house...outta weeeeeeeed?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:39 PM on August 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Going through possible terrible outcomes in my head.

New material is extraordinarily flammable. Or puts off terrible smoke/fumes. Or, the acid used to remove impurities during manufacturing is super harmful to the environment.

Found this PDF document: Mechanical testing of thin film nanocellulose material
posted by thisisdrew at 2:41 PM on August 27, 2012


This is sounding way too good to be true. What's the catch?
The stuff tastes terrible!


And the portions are so small.
posted by logicpunk at 2:46 PM on August 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Holy shit, we're not going to have to use oil for plastic in five years.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:49 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was at a symposium which discussed the use of carbon fibre in cars. One of the big things to get right is to ensure your lay-up is correct; that is, the carbon fibres are pointing in the right direction so they are mostly in tension (their strongest) for the loads the car part will experience. This can be tricky to determine and tricky to implement.

However, trees are really good at this. Their fibres in the trunk mostly point upwards so that they're strongest under tension (when the trunk bends in the wind) without wasting energy growing fibres in unnecessary directions. (I may be generalising / wrong, but I think this is the main idea.) However, this takes years to do, which doesn't help when you're trying to make cars on a production line.

Does this NCC technology help with that sort of thing? Or is it completely different technology?
posted by milkb0at at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2012


Waste into gold, eh?

*eyes lumber pile by the garage*



"Lung infections, here we come!"

It sounds like the cellulose crystals glue themselves together (with hydrogen bonds), so there isn't any danger of tiny microdust blowing around and giving people cancer.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rolling a flexible electronic display up ....

Holy shit you guys a magic scroll.
posted by The Whelk at 2:53 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


This will make for some fancy bicycle parts
posted by braksandwich at 2:57 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Finally! My vast fields of Kudzu will reap the millions I so richly deserve!
posted by pupdog at 2:58 PM on August 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


braksandwich: "This will make for some fancy bicycle parts"

The credit cards of dentists across America are drooling in anticipation.
posted by wcfields at 2:59 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


An edit of the FPP might be in order, based on the most recent edit to that article:
It also incorrectly stated that NCC material has eight times the tensile strength of stainless steel – this has now been corrected.
posted by crysflame at 3:02 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, you could use an actual weed!

There's a pilot project for a cellulose/biofuel gassification plant (district heating no less) here in Victoria BC that creates fuel from tree trimmings.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:05 PM on August 27, 2012


Good point, crysflame. In another article linked from the first, New Scientist says:
Mechanical testing shows it has a tensile strength of 214 megapascals, making it stronger than cast iron (130 MPa) and almost as strong as structural steel (250 MPa).
posted by Kevin Street at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2012


crysflame, the FPP and article both refer to "strength-to-weight ratio".

The correction indicates that the article originally referred to the raw tensile strength number (instead of to the ratio) because, as I noted above, New Scientist often sucks at the whole "science" part.
posted by 7segment at 3:12 PM on August 27, 2012


Or, you could use an actual weed!
What?
While there are still vast expanses of national and state forests the logging industry has yet to acquire and cut? Utter nonsense!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


entropicamericana: " LOOK SOMEBODY ELSE STARTED THE STAR TREK REFERENCES, DONT BLAME ME"

But it has "NCC" in the text! How can we possibly resist?

Also: Make Magazine: Transparent Aluminum.
posted by zarq at 3:18 PM on August 27, 2012


Slackermagee: Holy shit, we're not going to have to use oil for plastic in five years.

Yeah, it says that "NCC will replace metal and plastic car parts and could make nonorganic plastics obsolete in the not-too-distant future..."

Now, these kind of technologies are almost always less cool than the initial articles make them out to be, and there could be some so far unforeseen problem that will make it uneconomical or unsafe or who know what, but... Wow. If that's true, no more need for petroleum based plastics. That's huge.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:21 PM on August 27, 2012


People who live in nanocellulose houses can, curiously, throw all the stones they want.
posted by localroger at 3:29 PM on August 27, 2012 [13 favorites]



People who live in nanocellulose houses can, curiously, throw all the stones they want.


wouldn't they just bounce off and hit you instead?
posted by lester at 3:39 PM on August 27, 2012


aallllll the stones they want
posted by boo_radley at 3:42 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, what things like to eat it? Am I going to have to tent my car for termites? Replace sections as they rot?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:55 PM on August 27, 2012


Goats. I am from the future, and the goat problem is getting serious. At first we thought it was cute, but the novelty faded as the horror of the situation came to light. Something about the chemical composition of the material imbue ruminants with incredible strength, intelligence, and malevolence. The cattle posed no real threat, not outside of India, but these goats, these goats can climb.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:02 PM on August 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


I have no idea how it would be processed for different industries - but yeah, shouldn't anything that produces cellulase be able to eat this stuff? That may not be a bad thing tho, if they start making billions of plastic bags out of it...
posted by Kevin Street at 4:05 PM on August 27, 2012


Wax your car or the termites will eat it.
posted by anonymisc at 4:13 PM on August 27, 2012


Sure this sounds great, but not a single picture of some sample material?
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:24 PM on August 27, 2012


It sounds like I should hold off on new car and house purchases.
posted by quillbreaker at 4:33 PM on August 27, 2012


One thing that this brings to mind is rayon, which is a relatively cheap fiber produced from cellulose through a convoluted processing method. I'm not sure if the method to produce NCC is more or less dependent on a large number of chemicals like rayon is, but that's the reason why rayon can't be labeled as "bamboo" or whatever the cellulose comes from to appeal to people looking for environmentally friendly fabrics.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2012


The comments delve directly into using this to build a space elevator, and why it's not a good material for that. Worth a perusal.

Also, I, for one, welcome our new forestry service overlords...
posted by Huck500 at 4:51 PM on August 27, 2012


So which stocks should we buy?
posted by jimmythefish at 4:56 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lung infections, here we come!

More good news: no more iron lungs
posted by hal9k at 5:05 PM on August 27, 2012


I just want to say one word to you.

Just one word.

Are you listening?

Sawdust.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:05 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think I'll build an airplane out of it. What could go wrong?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:06 PM on August 27, 2012


A paper plane? I've already done that. It was magnificent, for at least seven seconds.
posted by anonymisc at 5:15 PM on August 27, 2012


You weren't high enough.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:20 PM on August 27, 2012


Hi! I'm a postdoctoral fellow in materials chemistry at the University of British Columbia, and my research group works with nanocrystalline cellulose (aka NCC). I wince when reporters use the term "wonder material" as if NCC is going to cure cancer, solve global warming and cause us all to become hideous mutants, but I can vouch that it is a pretty useful material, hopefully not too good to be true!

Undoubtedly NCC's main advantage is its low cost and renewability. Some people like to call NCC "a poor man's carbon nanotubes"- for many applications, carbon nanotubes (or other reinforcing materials such as carbon fibre) do offer superior performance, but at significantly higher cost. NCC is cheap enough that you can use in things like disposable grocery bags.

It won't entirely replace plastic though-- its main use is as a reinforcing agent, mixed in with plastics to inexpensively make the resulting composite much stronger (i.e., reducing, but not eliminating, the amount of polyethylene you'd need so your grocery bags don't split apart).

Let's see if I can answer some of the other questions/comments in this thread:

If you wanted a ton of cellulose, wouldn't bamboo be the ideal crop?

Bamboo is about 60% cellulose. Other sources such as cotton are 100% cellulose, although these industrial plants are set up to work with wood pulp since it's the forestry industry that's funding them. Another important thing to consider is the length of the NCC-- this can vary depending on the wood source between around 100 to 1000 nm, and greatly impacts the material performance. NCC prepared from softwood and hardwood lumber have different lengths, for example. Even some bacteria or animals such as tunicates make cellulose that's been made into NCC, and this tends to be the longest NCC.

I was at a symposium which discussed the use of carbon fibre in cars. One of the big things to get right is to ensure your lay-up is correct; that is, the carbon fibres are pointing in the right direction so they are mostly in tension (their strongest) for the loads the car part will experience... Does this NCC technology help with that sort of thing? Or is it completely different technology?

Yes, this would still be an issue for NCC, although NCC is typically a reinforcing agent whereas I believe car parts can be made entirely out of carbon fibre. I'd say a more important issue for reinforcing agents is that the additive has to mix really, really well into the plastic; otherwise you get clumps of additive which don't strengthen the material as effectively. NCC tends to be hydrophilic, being essentially starch, while most plastic precursors are hydrophobic. Figuring out how to mixing the two together for a given application is where us researchers roll up our sleeves and try to make ourselves useful.

Lung infections, here we come!

I believe the main problem with asbestos causing lung infections is due to the risk of inhalation. NCC is prepared as a solution, or integrated into solid nonporous materials, so the risk of inhaling it is low. Granted, precautionary health and environmental studies are are always a good thing when you're talking about a brand new material, but NCC is (in my opinion) one of the safest nanosized materials you'll find out there.

NCC also has lots of other interesting properties in addition to its mechanical ones- my main research interest are actually in NCC self-assembly and its unique optical properties. Here's a recent review (PDF) on NCC that may be of interest, albeit a wee technical.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 6:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [96 favorites]


Hmmmm... my yard is infested with Japanese Knotweed. That stuff is one of the most invasive plants on Earth, grows incredibly fast -- I've seen it grow a foot in one day -- and produces lots of biomass from early spring until fall. It is impossible to get rid of once established. Seems like the perfect feedstock for this material.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:18 PM on August 27, 2012


Thank you beepbeepboopboop for the info. Illuminating.
posted by ltracey at 6:56 PM on August 27, 2012


Swedish car maker koenigsegg uses an aluminum honeycomb as filler in some of the carbon Fibre sections of their cars. I wonder if NCC could fill the same role at a lower cost?
posted by tmt at 7:23 PM on August 27, 2012


The purpose of aluminum honeycomb is simply to reduce weight by filling volume where the structural properties of carbon fibre laminates are not necessary. It's the new styrofoam, basically.
posted by mek at 7:27 PM on August 27, 2012


DOES THIS CAUSE CANCER?

who knows. But buckyballs and fish nerves don't mix. And "nanocarbon" (carbon black) was known to travel from primate noses into their brains back 50+ years ago. www.cdc.gov/niosh/pdfs/78-204b.pdf

And yet the known nerve damaging nano carbon is being pushed as a solution to all of our ills.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:37 PM on August 27, 2012


Very weird, I was just having an email conversation about nanocrystalline cellulose. A lot of links (three pages worth under this tag search) on the FrogHeart nano research blog.
posted by nanojath at 8:02 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any issues with effluent, same as we've seen from pulp mills?
posted by arcticseal at 8:19 PM on August 27, 2012


beepbeepboopboop .. its main use is as a reinforcing agent, mixed in with plastics to inexpensively make the resulting composite much stronger

Hmm.. sounds difficult to recycle. Wood and plastic bound up at a nano-scale, how do you undo that?

--

Also: US Forest Service.. way to go guberment
posted by stbalbach at 8:39 PM on August 27, 2012


Does anyone have a picture of this stuff?

And yeah, stock tips please.
posted by quadog at 9:59 PM on August 27, 2012


I wonder if this changes how Ikea does things.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:37 PM on August 27, 2012


From beepbeepboopboop's link: "Sulphuric and hydrochloric acids are extensively
used in the preparation of NCC."

And that's after you have the wood pulp to start with, which is kind of nasty to produce, per TedW's link. (I used to live in Tacoma, WA, and every now and then got a whiff of the "Tacoma aroma," a rotten-eggs smell from the paper mills.)

But beepbeepboopboop's information also suggests that there are other sources besides wood pulp, including cotton which is 100% cellulose? Are the more toxic parts of the production cycle likely to be the same regardless of of the source, or is the fact that the forestry industry are the people funding this, pushing the technology toward more polluting sources than it actually needs to use?

The paper also says that cellulose from different sources produces NCC with different properties, but doesn't really go into the implications of those differences for specific applications. If hardwood produces different NCC than softwood which is different again than cotton or these bacterial sources... Which is best for these structural applications?
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:23 AM on August 28, 2012


But beepbeepboopboop's information also suggests that there are other sources besides wood pulp, including cotton which is 100% cellulose?

This is what the hemp movement has been saying for decades, that we need hemp for its ideal cellulose production, because it is mostly that and fiber, without acids to separate it from the lignn in trees. Ford apparently made a car out of soybean stalk already, to prove the concept.
posted by Brian B. at 7:23 AM on August 28, 2012


Sure this sounds great, but not a single picture of some sample material?

Especially since it's supposed to be clear. Is it like glass, or what?
(No photo makes me skeptical of the whole report.)
posted by Rash at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2012


From a blog about NCC:

"Janelle chemically ‘paired’ NCC with a well-known nano-particle called a buckminster fullerene. These ‘buckyballs’ (carbon molecules that look like a soccer ball) are already used in cosmetic and anti-aging products she says. The new NCC-buckyball combination acted like a ‘nano-vacuum,’ sucking up free radicals and neutralizing them."

Neat stuff, thanks!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2012


Are the more toxic parts of the production cycle likely to be the same regardless of of the source, or is the fact that the forestry industry are the people funding this, pushing the technology toward more polluting sources than it actually needs to use?

Regardless of the cellulose source, NCC production always requires a strong acid for hydrolysis. Context is important here though- virtually all materials are going to require some hazardous substances or equipment for production, and hydrochloric and sulphuric acids can be dealt with safely and in an environmentally respectful manner (HCl is the strong acid in our stomachs). NCC isn't something you can make in your bathtub.

The NCC feedstock choice depends on several parameters, some scientific and others economical. Generally, longer NCC is stronger, but is often more complicated to synthesize and process.

Especially since it's supposed to be clear. Is it like glass, or what?
(No photo makes me skeptical of the whole report.)


Sure- here's a photo of a sample I made in the lab yesterday! NCC isn't always perfectly transparent, but it's a heck of a lot better than pitch black carbon nanotubes.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:56 AM on August 28, 2012 [20 favorites]


What happens when we freeze it in ice?
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2012


Thanks, beepbeepboopboop!
posted by Rash at 4:40 PM on August 28, 2012


>...there are other sources besides wood pulp,
>including cotton which is 100% cellulose?

This is what the hemp movement has been saying for decades, that we need hemp for its ideal cellulose production.


Once you remove people who had little or no interest in hemp before experimenting with THC etc, is there really much/any movement left? My impression (so far) is that I've never met any, meanwhile I've heard people without the same ideological investment be fairly dismissive - indicating that few are interested, because the proclaimed wonderfulness of hemp is overstated by its fans and it's just another crop, not particularly impressive or desirable against other crops that are available.
posted by anonymisc at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2012


Once you remove people who had little or no interest in hemp before experimenting with THC etc, is there really much/any movement left? My impression (so far) is that I've never met any, meanwhile I've heard people without the same ideological investment be fairly dismissive - indicating that few are interested, because the proclaimed wonderfulness of hemp is overstated by its fans and it's just another crop, not particularly impressive or desirable against other crops that are available.

Apparently, hemp has a huge history that goes unmentioned. And it was outlawed quite suddenly in a combination of hysteria and confusion over the nature of field grade hemp compared to cultivated marijuana. and it still is. These seem to be facts well supported. You can see a summary of fit here in a congressional report. From a realist point of view (ie, that big money buys such laws on demand) it lacked a patent or a limited geography to allow control to maintain a huge margin of profit, as found in artificial fibers or tobacco. After a recent resurgence, it still appears nobody wants to fight the DEA over their obviously irrational approach at banning fibers with trace amounts of THC. You can check with those dismissive types to find the hidden wisdom therein, but it is obvious that the hemp community is better situated on this debate.
posted by Brian B. at 5:24 PM on August 28, 2012


First link is wrong, above, here is the congressional report.
posted by Brian B. at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2012


I assume by default that the DEA's approach to anything THC related is irrational, but the congressional report seems to confirm (though doesn't really directly address) what the dismissive types say about there being little incentive, with hemp not really standing out among other crops. Places where it's legal to grow, it hasn't become more than a minor niche thing, I wouldn't except the USA to differ in that regard, and that USDA study (that the market for the crop "are, and will likely remain, small, thin markets"), if anything makes it sound even less important.

I think from a freedom perspective, the restrictions are dumb, but the congressional report is only confirming my suspicions about the bizarreness of the hemp movement.
posted by anonymisc at 6:57 PM on August 28, 2012


(except=expect)
posted by anonymisc at 7:00 PM on August 28, 2012


There's a pilot project for a cellulose/biofuel gassification plant (district heating no less) here in Victoria BC that creates fuel from tree trimmings.

I wanted to learn more about this, and the first hit that wasn't a PDF was this very thread. D'oh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:07 PM on August 28, 2012


Kokuryu's comment, specifically...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:11 PM on August 28, 2012


with hemp not really standing out among other crops.

You were originally concerned with people claiming that it was no better than other crops, not what its current popularity ranked under a ban. By the way, those other crops are kapok, jute, sisal, and wood, which contains lignin. Flax was a hemp substitute for fiber and seed oil when it was banned. From Wikipedia:

Cellulose is the structural component of the primary cell wall of green plants, many forms of algae and the oomycetes. Some species of bacteria secrete it to form biofilms. Cellulose is the most common organic compound on Earth. About 33% of all plant matter is cellulose (the cellulose content of cotton fiber is 90%, that of wood is 40–50% and that of dried hemp is approximately 75%).[4][5][6]

For industrial use, cellulose today is mainly obtained from wood pulp and cotton. Cellulose is mainly used to produce paperboard and paper; to a smaller extent it is converted into a wide variety of derivative products such as cellophane and rayon. Converting cellulose from energy crops into biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol is under investigation as an alternative fuel source.

posted by Brian B. at 8:15 PM on August 28, 2012


I like hemp as much as the next fiber, but I thought part of the point of this was that it could be manufactured from waste, such as sawdust & other lumber industry byproducts. I'd love to see the commercial development of this stuff come to pass without any additional crops or harvesting at all.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:45 PM on August 28, 2012


I like hemp as much as the next fiber, but I thought part of the point of this was that it could be manufactured from waste, such as sawdust & other lumber industry byproducts. I'd love to see the commercial development of this stuff come to pass without any additional crops or harvesting at all.

They likely said that about paper too, and it is claimed that hemp was first outlawed by the largest chemical company in the US which made most of its money delivering acids to dissolve the lignin in wood pulp. Maybe they thought it was easier back then, because there was no such legal problem as toxic waste. There are other considerations when it comes to planting crops, especially when compared to logging.
posted by Brian B. at 10:09 PM on August 28, 2012


Wikipedia on paper making:

To make pulp from wood, a chemical pulping process separates lignin from cellulose fibers. This is accomplished by dissolving lignin in a cooking liquor, so that it may be washed from the cellulose fibers. This preserves the length of the cellulose fibers. Paper made from chemical pulps are also known as wood-free papers–not to be confused with tree-free paper. This is because they do not contain lignin, which deteriorates over time. The pulp can also be bleached to produce white paper, but this consumes 5% of the fibers. Chemical pulping processes are not used to make paper made from cotton, which is already 90% cellulose.
posted by Brian B. at 10:13 PM on August 28, 2012


You were originally concerned with people claiming that it was no better than other crops, not what its current popularity ranked under a ban.

I said that in countries where farmers are free to grow hemp it doesn't manage to be a noteworthy crop, and while the following can only be hypothetical, for commercial cellulose production it sounds like even if there were another country (such as yours) added to those without restrictions. and even assuming farmed (not waste) feedstock, it would still be cotton that producers turn to.

As I indicated, my impression (which if anything this thread is reinforcing) is that the hemp movement consists of people whose common background did not originate with fiber, but with cannabis. Anecdotally, those I've met wouldn't know weft from warp without looking it up, nor have had the slightest experience in growing commercial cotton. Instead, their background has been uniformly dope. Meanwhile, fiber people and farmers that I know haven't brought up the issue. It gives the movement the same kind of look as if there was a movement to push NASA to send a probe to a very specific asteroid - no other asteroid - and their common background is not scientific, but that they were all scientologists. Yes, the mission would likely be fruitful, but the common thread in their background means that their absolute insistence on it being that one specific asteroid when there are lots of others, isn't given much weight.
If that asteroid really is more important than the non-scientologists assume, it needs (and would hopefully have) a movement not born of Scientology.
posted by anonymisc at 10:50 AM on August 29, 2012


Meanwhile, fiber people and farmers that I know haven't brought up the issue. It gives the movement the same kind of look as if there was a movement to push NASA to send a probe to a very specific asteroid - no other asteroid - and their common background is not scientific, but that they were all scientologists.

Why would farmers care? If the government hates something, there won't be a subsidy forthcoming. It's not like they grow national solutions as a target crop for less money. The way I see it is like the Dick Cheney's comment that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter anymore." It's true, they don't matter to him. It's the same mindset that believes we solved a problem with wood and cotton, no need for an ancient interloper like hemp, with all that crop confusion and irrational DEA enforcement. The reality is that wood pulp and cotton are chemically dependent on an array of products that have firm corporate backing, perhaps more than any other crops. Regardless, I originally entered this discussion because of the claim that plant cellulose is needed for this product, which has always been a hemp thing when you want to reduce the use of chemicals. How this could be a problem is anyone's guess.
posted by Brian B. at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2012


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