Structure–property relationships of cellulose nanofibril hydro- and aerogels and their building blocks†
As abundant and renewable materials with excellent mechanical and functional properties, cellulose nanomaterials are utilized in advanced structural, optical and electronic applications. However, in order to further improve and develop new cellulose nanomaterials, a better understanding of the interplay between the self-assembled materials and their building blocks is crucial. This paper describes the structure–property relationships between cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) and their resulting self-assembled structures in the form of hydrogels and aerogels. Rheological experiments revealed that the transition from viscous to elastic state with the corresponding evolution of the properties of the CNF dispersion depends on the aspect ratio and can be described in terms of the dynamic overlap concentration. The elastic shear modulus was dependent on the aspect ratio at very low CNF concentrations, reaching a plateau, where only the concentration of CNFs was relevant. This transition point in shear modulus was exploited to determine the mesh size of the fibril network, which was found to be in excellent agreement with predictions from scaling arguments. These findings highlight the possibility to tune the self-assembled materials response directly from the bottom-up by the CNF particle structure and thus, suggest new assembly routes starting directly from the CNF design.