Unique Properties and Behavior of Nonmercerized Type-II Cellulose Nanocrystals as Carbon Nanotube Biocompatible Dispersants

Biomacromolecules 2019, 20, 8, 3147-3160

Nanocellulose is increasingly being investigated as a paradigm of a sustainable nanomaterial because of its extraordinary physical and chemical properties, together with its renewable nature and worldwide abundance. The rich structural diversity of cellulose materials is represented by different crystalline allomorphs, from which types I and II stand out. While type I is naturally and ubiquitously present, type II is man-made and requires harsh and caustic synthesis conditions such as the so-called mercerization process. Here, we provide an optimal scenario to obtain either type-I or II nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) by a mercerization-free method consisting only of the acid hydrolysis commonly used to produce nanocellulose from microcellulose. The possibility of having nonmercerized type-II NCC acquires a great relevance since this nanostructure shows particularly appealing properties. Moreover, an entangled and wrapped system arises when used as a dispersing agent for single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), significantly different from that of type I. The biological testing of each NCC type and their respective SWCNT–NCC dispersions in human intestinal (Caco-2) cells reveals a general innocuous behavior in both cancer and normal stages of differentiation; however, the type-II-based SWCNT–NCC dispersions display cytotoxicity for cancer cells while enhancing mitochondrial metabolism of normal cells.