Emerging Food Packaging Applications of Cellulose Nanocomposites: A Review
Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on Earth, which is synthesized by plants, bacteria, and animals, with source-dependent properties. Cellulose containing &beta;-1,4-linked D-glucoses further assembles into hierarchical structures in microfibrils, which can be processed to nanocellulose with length or width in the nanoscale after a variety of pretreatments including enzymatic hydrolysis, TEMPO-oxidation, and carboxymethylation. Nanocellulose can be mainly categorized into cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) produced by acid hydrolysis, cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) prepared by refining, homogenization, microfluidization, sonification, ball milling, and the aqueous counter collision (ACC) method, and bacterial cellulose (BC) biosynthesized by the Acetobacter species. Due to nontoxicity, good biodegradability and biocompatibility, high aspect ratio, low thermal expansion coefficient, excellent mechanical strength, and unique optical properties, nanocellulose is utilized to develop various cellulose nanocomposites through solution casting, Layer-by-Layer (LBL) assembly, extrusion, coating, gel-forming, spray drying, electrostatic spinning, adsorption, nanoemulsion, and other techniques, and has been widely used as food packaging material with excellent barrier and mechanical properties, antibacterial activity, and stimuli-responsive performance to improve the food quality and shelf life. Under the driving force of the increasing green food packaging market, nanocellulose production has gradually developed from lab-scale to pilot- or even industrial-scale, mainly in Europe, Africa, and Asia, though developing cost-effective preparation techniques and precisely tuning the physicochemical properties are key to the commercialization. We expect this review to summarise the recent literature in the nanocellulose-based food packaging field and provide the readers with the state-of-the-art of this research area.