Nanocellulose membranes based on tunicate-derived cellulose nanofibers, starch, and ~5% wood-derived lignin were investigated using three different types of lignin. The addition of lignin into cellulose membranes increased the specific surface area (from 5 to ~50 m2 /g), however the fine porous geometry of the nanocellulose with characteristic pores below 10 nm in diameter remained similar for all membranes. The permeation of H2, CO2, N2, and O2 through the membranes was investigated and a characteristic Knudsen diffusion through the membranes was observed at a rate proportional to the inverse of their molecular sizes. Permeability values, however, varied significantly between samples containing different lignins, ranging from several to thousands of barrers (10−10 cm3 (STP) cm cm−2 s−1 cmHg−1 cm), and were related to the observed morphology and lignin distribution inside the membranes. Additionally, the addition of ~5% lignin resulted in a significant increase in tensile strength from 3 GPa to ~6–7 GPa, but did not change thermal properties (glass transition or thermal stability). Overall, the combination of plant-derived lignin as a filler or binder in cellulose–starch composites with a sea-animal derived nanocellulose presents an interesting new approach for the fabrication of membranes from abundant bio-derived materials. Future studies should focus on the optimization of these types of membranes for the selective and fast transport of gases needed for a variety of industrial separation processes.
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