Nanollose Ltd (ASX:NC6) and Grasim Industries Ltd plan a staged scale-up approach to enable an expanded product range of tree-free fibres in various blends at varying price points to be offered to multiple markets.
This staged scale-up approach will see the pilot-scale production of several blended fibres being tested, with the blend percentage of tree-free microbial cellulose being progressively increased towards the eventual target of 100% tree-free fibre.
The first trials to produce blended fibres at pilot scale are expected to start in the coming months.
Significant interest has been received from parties in relation to both the 100% tree-free lyocell and various blends, with samples from upcoming pilot spins to be despatched to select brands and preferred partners during the scale-up.
Nanollose executive chairman Wayne Best said: “The March 2021 quarter has been a transformational period for Nanollose, commencing with the filing of a joint patent with Grasim Industries in January 2021, which has driven significant progress towards pilot production.
“Nanollose has been working diligently with Birla Cellulose, its microbial cellulose suppliers, and its contract research providers, to determine specifications, establish quality control procedures, and optimise processing, drying and purification methods prior to commencing the first pilot spin with Birla Cellulose.
“As part of the staged scale up to 100% tree-free fibres, Nanollose will produce pilot production quantities of several blended fibres, which will allow the company to offer fibres at different price points to appeal to different markets.
“A staged increase in the percentage of microbial cellulose in the fibre is both technically prudent and commercially advantageous, with interest in blended fibres having already been received from a number of parties."
Strategic investment in CelluAir
“Subsequent to Nanollose’s 20% strategic investment in CelluAir, there has been continued development of the advanced filtration technology, with the first scope of research completed including formulation optimisation and material selection, testing for maintained consistency of cellulose material and initial testing of Nanollose’s microbial cellulose.
"Nanollose remains well funded with an oversubscribed placement for $2.85 million completed in April 2021, strongly positioning the company to commercialise its tree-free Lyocell as its first priority.”
Pilot production of tree-free fibres
Nanollose and Birla Cellulose are now focused on taking this success into the pilot production phase, to produce initial multi-kilo quantities of this next generation fibre, commencing in the second half of 2021.
The parties have planned to adopt a 'staged scale-up' approach, which aims at pilot scale testing with progressively increasing blend percentage of tree-free microbial cellulose to produce quantities of several blended fibres consisting of varying percentages of tree-free microbial cellulose, mixed with other cellulosic materials.
The production of blended fibres is a common strategy in the fibre and textile industries, and an expanded product range of blended and 100% tree-free fibres will appeal to customers at different price points, thereby broadening the company’s addressable market.
This presents a significant opportunity for Nanollose, with the lyocell market predicted to be worth US$1.5 billion by 2024, growing with a CAGR of around 8%.
Moreover, the overall rayon market is predicted to be US$20.9 billion by 2024, growing with a CAGR of around 7.8%.
The process to move from lab-scale production to pilot-scale production is not a trivial one, and involves the following key workstreams which are being actively progressed by Nanollose and Birla Cellulose, as described below:
Optimise purification and drying
With certain specifications now identified, work is now underway to incorporate these specifications into the production processes.
In particular, Nanollose has been exploring various options for optimising the purification and drying of microbial cellulose at scale.
Microbial cellulose is well known to contain large amounts of water following its production by fermentation, and its cost-effective drying (to produce material suitable for fibre production at scale) is an important aspect of the process.
Product trials with global brands
As part of the company’s commercialisation strategy, Nanollose will undertake product trials with leading global brands in the fashion and apparel industry.
It has already received significant interest from several parties in relation to both 100% tree-free lyocell and various blended fibres.
Pilot-scale quantities of varying blend percentages will be dispatched to potential customers as staged scale up with increasing blend percentage of tree-free lyocell fibres progresses.
CelluAir, an Australian company developing an advanced filtration technology (AFT) based on nanocellulose, has undertaken the first scope of research comprised of three major areas of work.
It has tested five different forms of material, with further testing now underway on two materials that have demonstrated high potential.
The density of nano-cellulose material has also been explored allowing CelluAir to better understand the trade-off between filtration efficacy and back-pressure.
The ability to produce consistent and repeatable materials is critical for filtration applications to maintain quality.
In parallel to the laboratory test work, a rig was built to demonstrate that the material can be produced uniformly using industrial equipment.
Nanollose MC samples were delivered to CelluAir with testing ongoing to determine its suitability for application to the AFT.
2021 objectives and commercialisation of next-generation Lyocell
There are several key milestones that the company aims to achieve during the 2021 calendar year.
- Further optimisation of the production of processed microbial cellulose and the delivery of tonne quantities to Birla Cellulose for pilot-scale production;
- Advance pilot stage testing of the recently patented, next-generation, tree-free lyocell, following the delivery of multi-kilo and tonne quantities of microbial cellulose to Birla Cellulose;
- Produce and distribute the first samples of fibres and fabrics made from microbial cellulose from the pilot fibre spinning trials;
- Commence product trials with leading global brands in the fashion and apparel industry; and
- Commence pilot product trials in the nonwoven sector, as the company seeks to develop nufoliumTM for non-woven fibre applications, including personal wipes, which is a high growth market.