Assessing Fire-Damage in Historical Papers and Alleviating Damage with Soft Cellulose Nanofibers

Laura Völkel, Marco Beaumont, Leena Sisko Johansson, Caterina Marina Czibula, Dmitrii Rusakov, Andreas Mautner, Christian Teichert, Eero Kontturi, Thomas Rosenau, Antje Potthast

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The conservation of historical paper objects with high cultural value is an important societal task. Papers that have been severely damaged by fire, heat, and extinguishing water, are a particularly challenging case, because of the complexity and severity of damage patterns. In-depth analysis of fire-damaged papers, by means of examples from the catastrophic fire in a 17th-century German library, shows the changes, which proceeded from the margin to the center, to go beyond surface charring and formation of hydrophobic carbon-rich layers. The charred paper exhibits structural changes in the nano- and micro-range, with increased porosity and water sorption. In less charred areas, cellulose is affected by both chain cleavage and cross-linking. Based on these results and conclusions with regard to adhesion of auxiliaries, a stabilization method is developed, which coats the damaged paper with a thin layer of cellulose nanofibers. It enables the reliable preservation of the paper and—most importantly—retrieval of the contained historical information: the nanofibers form a flexible, transparent film on the surface and adhere strongly to the damaged matrix, greatly reducing its fragility, giving it stability, and enabling digitization and further handling.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2105420
Number of pages13
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. Small published by Wiley-VCH GmbH.


  • art conservation
  • chemical analysis
  • heat-damaged cellulose
  • mechanical stabilization
  • nanocellulose coating
  • surface structure

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