Innovative system based on natural polyelectrolyte complex and cellulose micro/nanofibers to improve drainability and properties of recycled paper

In this work, the efficiency of a polyelectrolyte complex (PEC) to retain different cellulose micro/nanofibers (CMNFs) during paper formation and to improve the physical properties of recycled unbleached fiber paper was analyzed. CMNFs were obtained from a commercial bleached eucalyptus pulp (BEP) using a PFI refiner followed by a chemical treatment with oxalic acid at two different concentrations. Finally, the pulp was fibrillated using a high-pressure homogenizer at three different intensities. The PEC was formed by addition of the xylan (Xyl) solution on chitosan (CH) solution with a Xyl/CH mass ratio of 80/20. The required dosages of PEC solution to neutralize the charges of different nanocellulose fractions were determined by ζ-potential measurements, and the CMNF retentions on recycled unbleached fibers were evaluated in a Britt Dynamic Drainage Jar. The results showed that the maximum retention was obtained when the neutral PEC-CMNF system was added to pulp. Besides, a significant decrease on °SR was observed when PEC and PEC-CMNF systems were added to the untreated pulp, limiting the negative effects of nanocellulose addition on pulp drainability. The incorporation of PEC-CMNF systems to the handsheets increased the tensile index (up to 28%), Mullen index (up to 40%) and internal bonding (up to 255%). Finally, the compressive strength of the handsheets, namely SCT and CMT, increased up to 30 and 70%, respectively. These simultaneous improvement on drainability and mechanical properties makes the proposed PEC-CMNF system a promising solution for the production of packaging paper ​
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