A Review on Nanocellulose Composites in Biomedical Application


Cellulose is the most abundant component in biomass and finds applications in many spheres of modern industry (Ilyas et al„ 2017; Ilyas & Sapuan, 2020; Ilyas, Sapuan, & Ishak, 2018; Kalia, Averous, et ah, 2011; Sanyang et ah, 2018). Cellulose is a carbohydrate polymer comprising a repeating unit of р-D-glucopyranose units linked by (3-1, 4 glycosidic bonds (Qin et ah, 2008). Cellulose has grabbed the attention of researchers due to its potential for several applications such as nanocellulose, biosugars, biocomposites, pulp and paper, and bioethanol (Aisyah et ah, 2019; Asyraf et ah, 2020; Atiqah et ah, 2019; Azammi et ah, 2020; Jumaidin, Ilyas, et ah, 2019; Jumaidin, Khiruddin, et ah, 2019; Jumaidin, Saidi, et ah, 2019; Norizan et ah, 2020; Nurazzi, Khalina, Sapuan, Ilyas, et ah, 2019; Nurazzi, Khalina, Sapuan, & Ilyas, 2019). There is a growing interest in the production of nanocellulose because of its interesting properties such as high specific surface area, high crystallinity, low density, nonabrasive and combustible nature, non-toxicity, low cost, and biodegradability (Ilyas, Sapuan, Sanyang, et ah, 2018; Kalia, Dufresne, et ah, 2011; Norrrahim, Ariffin, Yasim-Anuar, Ghaemi et ah, 2018). Nanofiber including nanocellulose can be described as a fiber that has a diameter of 100 nm or less with extremely high specific area and high porosity which contribute to its excellent pore interconnectivity (Abral et ah, 2019, 2020; Ilyas, Sapuan, Ibrahim, Abral, et ah, 2019; Syafri et ah, 2019). The tailorable surface chemistry and functionality may enable achievement of desired characteristics of nanocellulose materials befitting their targeted applications.

Nanocellulose can be classified into cellulose nanofiber (CNF), cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), and bacterial nanocellulose (BNC) based on its dimensions, functions, and method of preparation (Ilyas, Sapuan, Ibrahim. Atikah, et ah, 2019). Both CNF and CNC are considered plant-derived nanocellulose produced through the disintegration of plant cellulose using mechanical or chemical methods, accordingly. Subjected to chemical treatment or acid hydrolysis, CNC possesses a rod-like shape with near-perfect crystallinity (Abitbol et ah. 2016; Hazrol et ah, 2020; Hubbe et ah, 2008; Ilyas et ah, 2018b, 2018c). The size of CNC is approximately 5-70 nm wide and less than 100 nm in length (Kaboorani & Riedl, 2015). Meanwhile, CNF of micrometer-long fiber with a 20-40 nm diameter size consists of both amorphous and crystalline structure (Abitbol et ah, 2016; Ilyas et ah, 2018a; Ilyas, Sapuan. Ishak, et ah, 2019; Ilyas et ah, 2019a; Ilyas, Sapuan, Ishak, Zainudin, et ah, 2018; Siro & Plackett, 2010). BNC, on the other hand, is secreted extracellularly by bacteria such as Acetobacter sp„ Agrobacterium sp., Alcaligenes sp.. Pseudomonas sp.. Rhibozium sp., or Sarcina sp. (El-Saied et ah, 2004; Jonas & Farah, 1998), with a general size of 20-80 nm in diameter (Dima et ah, 2017; Jozala et ah. 2016; Mohammadkazemi et ah, 2015).

Applications of nanocellulose

FIGURE 8.1 Applications of nanocellulose.

Interest in the use of nanocellulose is increasing for several applications relevant to the fields of materials science, biomedical engineering, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods, and packaging (Ariffin et al„ 2017; Haafiz et al., 2013; Yasim-Anuar et al., 2019). Figure 8.1 shows recent developments in the applications of nanocellulose. In terms of biomedical application, nanocellulose could provide mechanical support to the tissues in which it resides, despite being physically insoluble and inelastic. It also possesses excellent biocompatibility and biodegradability, captivating high interest among researchers and industries as a cost-effective advanced material for biomedical applications.

The high stiffness of nanocellulose enables increments of mechanical strength of general-purpose thermoplastics polymers such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), and polylactic acid (PLA). Polymers are versatile, and they have been used in a wide range of applications for various purposes and in various fields. Nevertheless, some polymers require a reinforcement agent, also known as a filler, to improve their properties and fulfill the requirement of targeted applications. Owing to its renewable nature, anisotropic shape, outstanding mechanical properties, and good biocompatibility, nanocellulose has been gaining interest to be used as a filler for polymer composites (Norrrahim, Ariffin, Yasim-Anuar, Hassan et al., 2018; Yasim-Anuar et al., 2019). Table 8.1 shows several applications of composites from nanocellulose.


Applications of Nanocellulose Composites





- Nanocellulose composites from sugarcane bagasse and oil palm biomass cellulose were successfully produced with improved properties and suitable to be applied in packaging.

Ghaderi et al. (2014); Norrrahim, Ariffin. Yasim-Anuar, Hassan et al. (2018);

Atikah et al. (2019);

Ilyas et al. (2020);

Ilyas, Sapuan. Atiqah, et al. (2019);

Ilyas et al. (2019b)


  • - Production of malleable displays, solar cells, smart cards, radio frequency tags, medical implants, and wearable computers.
  • - Nanocellulose paper has high optical transparency and a low coefficient of thermal expansion.

Pandey et al. (2013); Hazrol et al. (2019. 2020)

Building material

  • - Production of load-bearing walls, stairs, roof systems, and subflooring.
  • - High-performance material.

Uddin & Kalyankar (2011)


- Replacement material for glass or carbon fiber polymer composites that are mainly used as door panels, package trays, and trunk liners in cars and trucks.

Masoodi et al. (2012)

Digital display

  • - Production of optically transparent plastic substrate for bendable displays.
  • - Multiple advantages such as high paper-like reflectivity, flexibility, contrast, and biodegradability.

Nogi et al. (2009)

Pharmaceutical and medical

  • - Excellent compaction properties when blended with another pharmaceutical excipient.
  • - Application as skin replacements for burns and w ounds, drugreleasing system, blood vessel growth, nerves, gum, and dura mater reconstruction, scaffolds for tissue engineering, stent covering, and bone reconstruction.

Kalia. Dufresne, et al. (2011)


Examples of Nanocellulose Polymer Composites for Biomedical Applications

Type of Polymer


Targeted Applications


Polylactic acid (PLA)

Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)


Shi et al. (2012)

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) hydrogel

Cellulose nanofiber (CNF), CNC

To mimic collagenous soft tissues

Tummala et al. (2017)



nanocellulose (BNC)

For reconstructive surgery' of soft and hard tissues

Ludwicka et al, (2019)



To mimic artificial blood vessels

Tang et al, (2015)

Poly( vinyl pyrrolidone)


In vitro wound dressing

Poonguzhali et al. (2017)

From the aspect of biomedical applications, biostability and biodegradability of polymers need to be considered in selecting a polymer (Francis, 2018). Polyamides, polyesters, polyanhydrides, poly(ortho esters), poly(amido amines), polyhydroxy- alkanoates, poly(p-amino esters), poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid), poly(glycolic acid), and PLA are among the important and safe biomedical polymers that have been mainly used in biotechnology and medicine. Table 8.2 shows some examples of nanocellulose polymer composites for biomedical applications.

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