Native wood celluloses can be converted to individual nanofibers 3–4 nm wide that are at least several microns in length, i.e. with aspect ratios >100, by TEMPO (2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl radical)-mediated oxidation and successive mild disintegration in water. Preparation methods and fundamental characteristics of TEMPO-oxidized cellulose nanofibers (TOCN) are reviewed in this paper. Significant amounts of C6 carboxylate groups are selectively formed on each cellulose microfibril surface by TEMPO-mediated oxidation without any changes to the original crystallinity (∼74%) or crystal width of wood celluloses. Electrostatic repulsion and/or osmotic effects working between anionically-charged cellulose microfibrils, the ζ-potentials of which are approximately −75 mV in water, cause the formation of completely individualized TOCN dispersed in water by gentle mechanical disintegration treatment of TEMPO-oxidized wood cellulose fibers. Self-standing TOCN films are transparent and flexible, with high tensile strengths of 200–300 MPa and elastic moduli of 6–7 GPa. Moreover, TOCN-coated poly(lactic acid) films have extremely low oxygen permeability. The new cellulose-based nanofibers formed by size reduction process of native cellulose fibers by TEMPO-mediated oxidation have potential application as environmentally friendly and new bio-based nanomaterials in high-tech fields.
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