In search of alternative polymers based on renewable bio-based resources

The current environmental and economical context encourages our societies to find alternative solutions such as developing renewable biomass made products. This is an attractive alternative to oil-based products and the current objective of the European Commission is to reach 20% of renewable products and energy by 2020. A strong research effort is made in that respect.

Nicolas Le Moigne is a Doctor of MINES ParisTech since Dec. 9, 2008. He appreciates to be part of the current research effort on a global environmental issue. His thesis was focused on cellulose and its swelling and dissolution mechanisms. The Alceru Prize 2010 awards his innovative work.

Cellulose has a great potential. As the most important skeletal component in plants, it is an abundant natural polymeric material, mainly synthesised by plants and trees in the form of fibres. Nevertheless its use as a raw material is restricted by its processing complexity. Its specific structure prevents its melting, unlike thermoplastic polymers as polyolefins.

“Improving cellulose processing: a great challenge”

Up to now, there are two ways to process cellulose: to derivatize it to materials like cellulose acetate or to dissolve it in solvents. In these forms, cellulose is then employed in film extrusion, fibre spinning or as an additive, for textile, food or pharmaceutical industries. One of the current challenges is to find a cheap, efficient and non-polluting dissolving process. Many studies have been conducted to understand how cellulose structure could be dismantled or modified to improve its dissolution, preserving in the meantime its original properties. Cellulose dissolution is still accompanied by strong degradations decreasing the final product properties.

Nicolas studied the fundamental mechanisms of swelling and dissolution of cellulose fibres in various dissolution conditions. The originality of his researches was to place the study at the interface of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. A collaboration between MINES ParisTech - CEMEF and biologists from INRA (French National Institute for Agriculture Research) brought a new insight in cellulose dissolution by better integrating the biological processes that lead to the complex structure of cellulose fibres. His contribution was a qualitative and quantitative description of the phenomena supported by high resolution observations (see picture) as well as the development of new approaches to improve dissolution. Nicolas’ experimental researches are considered by the scientific community as very creative and industrially relevant and are believed to bring a better understanding of the scientific obstacles to be lifted to improve dissolution. His research work has been published in eight publications in renowned professional journals and presented at several national and international symposiums and congresses. In 2007, his work has been already honoured with the "Best Lecture" award at the 3rd "Cellulose, Regenerated Cellulose and Cellulose Derivatives" workshop at the University of Karlstad in Sweden.

Understanding and using renewable polymeric materials still remains complex

New processes and use of these materials in industrial applications may appear within the next decade. It is of great satisfaction for Nicolas to be part of this evolution. However, he is aware that these new applications should not be only scientific advances. The environmental aspect must be taken into consideration (i.e. use of fertilizer, CO2 pollution) as well as in the societal issues involved (access to land, water and food).

Centre for material forming (MINES ParisTech - CEMEF), a 170 top level research centre devoted to metal and polymer processing, moved strongly to renewable biomass-based polymer research about six years ago. Since then, it has been involved in more than 20 research actions where the knowledge of biomass is combined with the expertise in experimental processing, numerical simulation and optimization of end-use properties. Since Nov. 2008, Dr. Tatiana Budtova is the holder of the only Industrial Chair in Europe focused on bioplastics. It is sponsored by five major companies (Arkema, L’Oréal, Schneider Electric, Peugeot Citroën PSA, and Nestlé). Its objective is to develop a basic knowledge in the area of durable renewable, bio-based polymers and to transfer it to applications. Dr. Patrick. Navard is the head of the only international network dedicated to polysaccharides with 16 research centres and more than 25 companies world-wide ( It is a very active network which managed to drastically boost collaborative research in polysaccharides in Europe.

“Nicolas’ academic career: his way aimed to materials research”

In 2000, Nicolas graduated in "materials science and engineering” from the University Institute for Technology of Nantes. In 2003, he successfully completed his engineering studies, specialising in polymers materials, at the National Institute for Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon. He then turned to research and passed his Research Masters degree in polymers and composite materials in 2004 with distinction. The following year, Nicolas moved to MINES ParisTech-CEMEF, Sophia-Antipolis, where he took up his doctorate in materials science at the end of 2008 with the award "with honours and congratulations of the jury".

Since 2009, Nicolas has been working at the renowned Institute Carnot M.I.N.E.S. at CEMEF and the University of Wageningen (The Nertherlands) as a postdoctoral fellow. He carries out research in the field of natural fibre reinforced materials. As a model, he is investigating the influence of fibres on the rheology of natural fibre-polypropylene composite materials. He also lectures in Bachelor courses, supports students in their material science Masters studies and is actively involved in national and European collaborative projects.

The Alceru Award category “Young Academics” honours every two years a young European scientist for remarkable fundamental advances in the field of polysaccharides (as cellulose or starch). Nicolas Le Moigne’s research was performed at CEMEF (Centre for Material Forming, MINES ParisTech) and supervised by Dr. Patrick Navard. It was supported by an industrial consortium of four renowned international companies: Borregaard (Norway), Dowwolff Cellulosics (Germany), Lenzing (Austria) and Spontex (France).

On the center Nicolas LE MOIGNE, Dr. Tim LIEBERT of the Frederick Schiller's university of Jena, on the left, and Dr. Frank Meister of the Thuringian Institute of Textile and Plastics Research (TITK), on the right.

Web link to PhD thesis:

Web link to CEMEF:

Web link to EPNOE:

Web link to industrial chair in bioplastics: