Fabrication of nanocellulose structured film for application in flexible energy storage and electronicdevices

The current project of the group entails the preparation of nanocellulose. This is to be combined with a strong material or polymer for casting into a film. The film can then be used to manufacture a device such as a capacitor, solar cell, etc.

Cellulose, one of the most versatile and widely found biopolymers in nature, has been used by humans for millennia as a building material, an energy source, a component of clothing and for storing and sharing knowledge and culture. Today, cellulose materials are used in a wide range of applications, and the paper and pulp industry constitutes a significant share of the economic output in many countries, including South Africa. One recent strong trend is to focus on the isolation of fibrils and whiskers of cellulose with diameters in the nanometer range and to utilize their enhanced properties to develop novel cellulose-based materials with diverse advanced functionalities. Various forms of such nanocellulose can be produced by different routes and from a variety of cellulose sources. The interest in nanocellulose stems from the fact that this material has very interesting properties that are quite unlike those of normal cellulose. Nanocellulose features an attractive combination of properties such as biocompatibility, a high elastic modulus (similar to steel), a low thermal expansion coefficient, optical transparency and anisotropy, negative diamagnetic anisotropy and flexible surface chemistry, making it of interest in applications such as composites, security papers, wound dressings and medical implants.

In countries with well-developed forest product industries like ours, such as Canada and Finland, there are already a number of start-up companies that make nanocellulose in the order of 500 - 1 000 kg/day in pilot plant settings. South Africa, through Sappi and divisions of the CSIR, does have research expertise in chemical cellulose (dissolving pulp), but mainly for application in viscose, lyocell, acetate, ethers and cellophane production. Sappi is the largest producer of chemical cellulose and all of Sappi’s local product is exported. There is therefore a need to develop expertise in furthering the development of this renewable resource particularly in KwaZulu-Natal where forestry forms a large part of the agricultural sector.

Nanomaterials Team

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Nanoenergy: Development of a ‘NANO’ Refrigerator

Modern societies need more and more energy, both stationary and mobile. Yet, in rural areas of South Africa and all over Africa, even basic energy sources are often not available. For small scale and even larger scale farming communities, refrigeration of produce between harvest and sale or pasteurisation of milk is therefore a big problem. The use of fossil fuels to power a refrigeration unit should be avoided due to cost and environmental impact. It is, therefore, imperative to develop means of keeping food fresh and improve food security using the available resources of energy and construction materials.

The development of new materials enables new and exciting real-world applications. The problem of autonomously powered refrigeration in farming communities calls for the use of new materials or material combinations to make a refrigeration unit cost effective, environmentally friendly, practical and virtually maintenance-free. To this end we explore the use of nanostructured materials and composites for a range of energy technologies including photovoltaics, electrochemical energy storage, nanofluids and graphene cables 

Nanoenergy Team

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