Ch.4: Cellulose

Film (left) is made from cellulose. (

The main component in cotton is cellulose. Cellulose, as well as making up over 90% of cotton, is also a major component of plant cell walls, and is a polymer of glucose. Cellulose is a structural polysaccharide, which means that it provides structural support to organisms, plants in particular. (Le Couteur & Burreson 70-86)

The cellulose molecule is shaped in long chains. When these chains are packed closely together then they make the rigid, insoluble fiber that plant cell walls are constructed of. The same bundling and twisting of the cellulose molecule is required to make textile fibers also. Another unlikely use for cellulose, besides the use of it in cotton clothing, is that it can be used as an explosive molecule. It was discovered in the 1830s that cellulose, when combined with a concentrated form of nitric acid, and then poured into water would yield a highly flammable and explosive white powder. This white powder became known as guncotton. Guncotton was found to be highly unstable and extremely sensitive, an inconvenient property when talking about explosives. Because of this fact, gun powder remained the dominant force in the explosives market. Guncotton was not a complete failure however. Chemists were able to use the nitrocellulose compound and form some of the first films used in photography. In fact, the photography and movie industry would probably look quite different without cellulose. (Le Couteur & Burreson 70-86)