Noncovalent Dispersion and Functionalization of Cellulose Nanocrystals with Proteins and Polysaccharides

Native cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) are valuable high quality materials with potential for many applications including the manufacture of high performance materials. In this work, a relatively effortless procedure was introduced for the production of CNCs, which gives a nearly 100% yield of crystalline cellulose. However, the processing of the native CNCs is hindered by the difficulty in dispersing them in water due to the absence of surface charges. To overcome these difficulties, we have developed a one-step procedure for dispersion and functionalization of CNCs with tailored cellulose binding proteins. The process is also applicable for polysaccharides. The tailored cellulose binding proteins are very efficient for the dispersion of CNCs due to the selective interaction with cellulose, and only small fraction of proteins (5–10 wt %, corresponds to about 3 μmol g<sup>–1</sup>) could stabilize the CNC suspension. Xyloglucan (XG) enhanced the CNC dispersion above a fraction of 10 wt %. For CNC suspension dispersed with carboxylmethyl cellulose (CMC) we observed the most long-lasting stability, up to 1 month. The cellulose binding proteins could not only enhance the dispersion of the CNCs, but also functionalize the surface. This we demonstrated by attaching gold nanoparticles (GNPs) to the proteins, thus, forming a monolayer of GNPs on the CNC surface. Cryo transmission electron microscopy (Cryo-TEM) imaging confirmed the attachment of the GNPs to CNC solution conditions.