This work describes three alternative processes for producing microfibrillated cellulose (MFC; also referred to as cellulose nanofibrils, CNF) in which bleached pulp fibres are first pretreated and then homogenized using a high-pressure homogenizer. In one process, fibre cell wall delamination was facilitated by a combined enzymatic and mechanical pretreatment. In the two other processes, cell wall delamination was facilitated by pretreatments that introduced anionically charged groups into the fibre wall, by means of either a carboxymethylation reaction or irreversibly attaching carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) to the fibres. All three processes are industrially feasible and enable energy-efficient production of MFC. Using these processes, MFC can be produced with an energy consumption of 500–2300 kWh/tonne. These materials have been characterized in various ways and it has been demonstrated that the produced MFCs are approximately 5–30 nm wide and up to several microns long.
The MFCs were also evaluated in a number of applications in paper. The carboxymethylated MFC was used to prepare strong free-standing barrier films and to coat wood-containing papers to improve the surface strength and reduce the linting propensity of the papers. MFC, produced with an enzymatic pretreatment, was also produced at pilot scale and was studied in a pilot-scale paper making trial as a strength agent added at the wet-end for highly filled papers.