Cellulose nanofibrils constitute the smallest fibrous components of wood, with a width of approximately 4 nm and a length in the micrometer range. They consist of aligned linear cellulose chains with crystallinity exceeding 60%, rendering stiff, high-aspect-ratio rods. These properties are advantageous in the reinforcement components of composites. Cross-linked networks of fibrils can be used as templates into which a polymer enters. In the semi-concentrated regime (i.e. slightly above the overlap concentration), carboxy methylated fibrils dispersed in water have been physically cross-linked to form a volume-spanning network (a gel) by reducing the pH or adding salt, which diminishes the electrostatic repulsion between fibrils. By applying shear during or after this gelation process, we can orient the fibrils in a preferred direction within the gel, for the purpose of fully utilizing the high stiffness and strength of the fibrils as reinforcement components. Using these gels as templates enables precise control of the spatial distribution and orientation of the dispersed phase of the composites, optimizing the potentially very large reinforcement capacity of the nanofibrils.
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