It means Sappi will be able to produce the lightweight material on a commercially viable basis – and without producing large volumes of chemical waste water associated with existing techniques. The energy-saving process will be used in a new nanocellulose producing pilot plant to be erected by Sappi.

"Unlike other lightweight, high-strength materials based on fossil fuels it is completely sustainable, making it very desirable as a new material for various industrial and transport applications," said said project coordinator Math Jennekens, R&D director at Sappi Europe.

The Edinburgh Napier research team said that they have been able to drastically reduce the amount of energy needed to power the process, as well as the need for expensive chemicals.

"What is significant about our process is the use of unique chemistry, which has allowed us to very easily break down the wood pulp fibres into nanocellulose and there is no expensive chemistry required," said Professor Rob English, who led the research with his Edinburgh Napier colleague, Dr Rhodri Williams.