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NanoCELL – Comprehensive characterization and human toxicological assessment of nanocellulose along its life cycle for reliable risk assessment and safe use in environmentally friendly packaging materials


Cellulose is the most abundant organic material on earth. Nanoscale crystallites can be obtained from biomass or cellulose-containing recyclable materials (waste). Nanocellulose (NC) is extracted from renewable raw materials and is therefore part of the bioeconomy. Nanocellulose exhibits excellent barrier properties for oxygen and mineral oils. Hence, it is able to replace barrier materials made of fossil raw materials. Nanocellulose is biodegradable and offers a promising approach to reduce persistent plastic waste.

It may thus represent a potential way out of the microplastics issue in the environment in cases, where packaging waste is accidentally released into the environment and where appropriate waste collection systems are missing. In addition, several studies indicate a better compatibility of Nanocellulose with other polymers and paper than conventionally applied materials and may therefore cause fewer issues in the recycling process eventually leading to a higher quality of the recyclate.

While it is generally accepted that cellulose produced from bacteria is non-toxic, there are still significant knowledge gaps when it comes to the impact and interactions of other cellulose nano- and microstructures such as e.g. Nanocellulose crystals and Nanocellulose fibres. The toxicity of these materials strongly depends on shape and size, surface chemistry and quality of the manufacturing process (impurities). Preliminary results indicate a low dermal and oral toxicity, but are inconsistent with regard to inhalation.

Description of NanoCELL's approach to research on nanocellulose for raw materials, extraction, processing and toxicology

NanoCell Project Plan

Against this background, NanoCELL pursues the following objectives:

1. Development of material and analysis of Nanocellulose

  • Improved manufacturing strategies for Nanocellulose from different sources (i.a. pulp and (waste-)paper) and upscaling of the synthesis approach
  • Development of methods for the production of Nanocellulose -enforced foils and coatings
  • Evaluation of the performance of Nanocellulose -enforced foils and coatings with regard to barrier properties against oxygen and mineral oils
  • Development of standardized analytical strategies from sample preparation to physico-chemical characterization of Nanocellulose in complex matrices (such as saliva, gastric acid, intestinal fluid)
  • Development of quantitative analytical techniques for the characterization of Nanocellulose along its life cycle using electron microscopy and field-flow fractionation (FFF) coupled with static (MALS) and dynamic light scattering (DLS) as well refractive index (RI) detection

2. Toxicological evaluation of Nanocellulose

  • Simulation and experimental verification of the potential transport of Nanocellulose across the gastrointestinal barrier (GIT) with focus on the small intestine
  • Simulation of the chemical degradation and the uptake of Nanocellulose in human cells depending on particle size and further particle properties (shape, surface charge)
  • Development of smart testing strategies based on novel in vitro- und in silico-approaches for the early identification and prediction of material risks related to Nanocellulose
  • Investigation of the toxicological impact of Nanocellulose based on the application of newly developed cell models (GIT, lung) and chip-based high-throughput approaches

Grant Number: BMBF - 03XP0196
Duration: 01.03.2019 - 28.02.2022 (extended to 30.06.2022)

Project Lead

Postnova Analytics GmbH Logo
Dr. Florian Meier, Postnova Analytics GmbH

Project Partners

Postnova Analytics GmbH Logo
Postnova Analytics GmbH, Landsberg am Lech (DE)

Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT), Sulzbach (DE)

Microscopy Services Dähnhardt GmbH, Flintbek (DE)
VITROCELL Systems GmbH Logo
VITROCELL Systems GmbH, Waldkirch (DE)

Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV), Freising (DE)

Chair of process systems engineering, Technical University of Munich (TUM), Munich (DE)
Saarland University Logo
Clinical Pharmacy, Saarland University, Saarbrücken (DE)

Associated Partners

German Environmental Protection Agency (UBA), Dessau-Roßlau (DE)

Infiana Germany GmbH & Co. KG, Forchheim (DE)
GRÜNPERGA Papier GmbH, Grünhainichen (DE)



  • Metzger C., Briesen H. (2021). Thermoplastic Starch Nanocomposites Reinforced with Cellulose Nanocrystal Suspensions Containing Residual Salt from Neutralization. Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, n/a(n/a): 2100161.


  • Metzger C., Auber D., Dahnhardt-Pfeiffer S., Briesen H. (2020). Agglomeration of cellulose nanocrystals: the effect of secondary sulfates and their use in product separation. Cellulose, 27(17): 9839-9851.
  • Kovar L., Selzer D., Britz H., Benowitz N., St Helen G., Kohl Y., Bals R., Lehr T. (2020). Comprehensive Parent-Metabolite PBPK/PD Modeling Insights into Nicotine Replacement Therapy Strategies. Clin Pharmacokinet, 59(9): 1119-1134.
  • Kohl Y., Runden-Pran E., Mariussen E., Hesler M., El Yamani N., Longhin E.M., Dusinska M. (2020). Genotoxicity of Nanomaterials: Advanced In Vitro Models and High Throughput Methods for Human Hazard Assessment-A Review. Nanomaterials (Basel), 10(10): 1911.
  • Kohl Y., Hesler M., Drexel R., Kovar L., Dahnhardt-Pfeiffer S., Selzer D., Wagner S., Lehr T., Von Briesen H., Meier F. (2021). Influence of Physicochemical Characteristics and Stability of Gold and Silver Nanoparticles on Biological Effects and Translocation across an Intestinal Barrier-A Case Study from In Vitro to In Silico. Nanomaterials (Basel), 11(6): 1358.
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