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A technological innovation that could revolutionise the paper industry

A researcher at the Terrassa Campus patents a biotechnology product to make waterproof paper using natural enzymes

Oriol Cusola, a member of the CelBiotech paper research group on the UPC's Terrassa Campus, has patented a natural aqueous compound that gives advanced properties to any cellulose base material. The patent was an outcome of Cusola's doctoral thesis supervised by Blanca Roncero and Cristina Valls. Using biotechnological and environmentally friendly methods, it will allow the surface of paper products to be modified simply without interrupting the production process and will help save large amounts of chemicals.

Oriol Cusola, a 29-year-old researcher from Lleida, has patented a new aqueous compound to functionalise or modify the properties of paper and any other cellulosic material. The compound uses natural enzymes instead of the traditional chemical reagents, is biodegradable, and involves no environmental impact. Most important, it is easily applicable in the production process and requires no additional investment.

This major technological innovation will greatly facilitate the creation of new paper products with high added value. So far, the company applying the new product is able to make waterproof paper in an alternative way using biotechnology and without using the common chemicals that hinder recycling. By means of a single application, the new product makes paper multifunctional or gives it several properties, such as being hydrophobic and antioxidant or acting as a barrier.

Waterproof paper without chemical reagents
Though companies are keen to invest in biotechnology, the introduction of enzymatic treatments that modify paper in order to create new products from cellulose is complex and costly. To generate the enzymatic reaction, the production must be stopped at a particular stage in the industrial process. The new compound patented by Cusola adheres to the surface of the paper and instantly modifies its properties. It can be applied immediately within current manufacturing systems without stopping the production line.

Cusola and the CelBiotech paper research group of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) have done specific work on making paper hydrophobic and their new patented compound allows paper to be waterproofed without using conventional chemical reagents.

The group have also experimented with cellulose-based textiles to check the effectiveness of the new product. One of the results is that they were able to make a baby's bib waterproof on one side by spraying it with the product.

A revolution in the paper industry
The companies in the paper industry that implement Cusola's innovation will become more competitive and save energy and chemicals. They will also save on transportation costs, because the compound can be concentrated for easy distribution. However, the main value of this innovation is that it can be used to make products with high added value from cellulosic substrates using biotechnological methods that are more environmentally friendly. Cusola's innovation may therefore revolutionise this industrial sector.

On the market there are currently about 2,900 different types of special papers that are not used for writing. At a time of growth of electronic publications, the trend in the international paper industry is to seek to modify or functionalise the properties of cellulose to generate new uses and new applications. Examples are giving paper the properties of plastics and other petroleum products to manufacture biodegradable food cartons; making paper antioxidant so that it can keep food for longer; changing paper's properties to make it sufficiently waterproof for manufacturing cups without adding paraffin; and adding antibacterial substances to produce infection-proof dressings.

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