Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Applied Science (MASc)


Chemical Engineering


Michael Thompson


Qiang Liu



Committee Member

Shiping Zhu; Emily Cranston


Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on earth, derived from a variety of living species. An attractive source to obtain cellulose is from agriculture wastes, for instance, potato peel. Potato is one of the most important crops for human consumption, but in recent years its consumption in raw form has decreased, especially in developed countries. Many potatoes are processed into value-added products to meet the demand of fast food industries. So far the main use of the potato peel is sold for animal feed at very low prices. In addition, there are significant quantities of rotten potatoes generated during the years of heavy rain fall, which represent a substantial financial loss to the farmers unless an alternative industrial use can be found for the biomass. Therefore, extracting cellulose from potato peel and processing them into a higher valuable product is not only an environment-friendly solution to the disposal issues but also creates a non-food based economy for potatoes.

Cellulose nanocrystals (CN) are a promising material and have been widely studied over the past two decades. This material is interesting as nanofiller due to its nanoscale dimensions, high specific area, and highly rigid crystalline structure. In comparison to mineral or metal nanofillers that are industrially available, cellulose nanocrystals are prepared from renewable feedstocks, feature low density, are relatively low cost, and remain biodegradable.

This study investigated the effectiveness of cellulose nanocrystal derived from potato peel waste to improve the mechanical and barrier properties of a polymer. The nanocrystals were chemically derived from the cellulosic material in potato peel waste by alkali treatment and subsequently acid hydrolysis with sulfuric acid. Infrared spectroscopy indicated sufficient removal of lignin and hemicellulose from the raw potato peel biomass whereas X-ray diffraction confirmed that the prepared nanocrystals maintained their original crystalline lattice structure as the extracted cellulose, with a crystallinity of 85%. TEM images showed that the average fiber length of the nanocrystals was 410 nm with a diameter of 10 nm (aspect ratio of 41). Cellulose nanocrystal-filled polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and thermoplastic starch (TPS) were prepared by solution casting method to maintain uniform dispersion of the 1-2% (w/w) fibers. An increase of 19% and 38% (starch composite) and 32% and 54% (PVA composite) in Young’s modulus was observed for the 1% and 2% CN-reinforced composites, respectively. Water vapor transmission rate measurements showed a reduction of water permeability for the PVA nanocomposite, whereas no effect was observed for starch nanocomposite.

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