The morphological and chemical characteristics of cell walls govern the response of wood fibre to mechanical pulping processes and thereby influence the energy efficiency of the process and determine most pulp and paper properties. A study has been carried out at the microstructural/ultrastructural level of fibre cell walls by means of a newly developed Simons’ staining (SS) method and scanning electron microscopy to characterize thermomechanical pulps (TMPs) produced under different refining conditions. The SS method allows assessment and quantification of pulp fibre development during the process in terms of cell wall delamination/internal fibrillation (D/IF) under different process conditions, and the degree of D/IF can be statistically evaluated for different TMP types. In focus was never-dried Norway spruce TMP from primary stage double-disc refining running in a full-scale mill, where specific refining energy was varied at different refining pressure levels. Improved energy efficiency was gained at the same tensile index level when applying high pressure (temperature). Under conditions of high pressure and refining energy, a significant enhancement of the degree of D/IF of pulp fibres was observed. The surface ultrastructure of these fibres exhibited an exposed S2 layer with long ribbon-type fibrillation compared to pulps produced with lower pressure and energy input. A given TMP type can be classified in the categories of high-severity and low-severity changes and quasi-untreated concerning the degree of D/IF of its fibres. The relative proportions of these are important for the development of pulp properties such as tensile strength. The presence of higher amounts of fibre fractions in the categories high D/IF and low D/IF will improve the tensile index of a TMP.
©2011 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston