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The Magic Media -

Part 1- Cellulose
Cellulose is the common material of plant cell
walls. It occurs in almost pure form in cotton
fiber and in combination with other materials
such as lignin and hemi-cellulose, in wood,
plant leaves and stalks.

Cellulose is a long-chain molecule (polymer)

made up of recurring units of glucose, a
simple sugar. The structural unit is shown
below in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – The Structural Unit of Cellulose

Because of the strong hydrogen bonds that exist between cellulose chains, cellulose does
not dissolve in common solvents. The positions of the hydroxyl (-OH) groups protrude
laterally along the molecule chain. Those positions make them readily available for
“hydrogen bonding” As a consequence, cellulose can adsorb large quantities of polar
compounds such as water and other contaminants. Bundles of cellulose molecules are
aggregated together in the form of micro-fibrils in which highly ordered (crystalline) regions
exist with less ordered amorphous regions. When the fibers adsorb water or other polar
contaminants both intra-crystalline and inter-crystalline swelling occurs. As the fiber swells,
inter-molecular bonds are broken as a result of internal stresses produced by swelling. With
very strong swelling agents, it is possible to reach a critical point where the entire crystalline
structure is disrupted and the fiber structure is lost. Some binary mixtures of liquids can
produce more swelling than either compound alone. This effect is particularly true when
water is one of the liquids.

When used in bulk filter cartridges, the bulk density of the compressed fibers has to be
around 1.00 grams per cubic centimeter. At this density, the swelling is very rapid. The
swelling power of water reaches in excess of 90%, while that of diesel or fuel oil only reaches
2%. This is what makes cellulose such a good adsorbing material when it is used to remove
water from fuel.

A lesser known application of cellulose adsorbing filter elements is the removal of varnish
and sludge from lubrication oil.
What is varnish?

It is that thin film that deposits itself of servo valves and bearings. It is a high-molecular
weight substance that is insoluble in oil. When suspended in oil, it is made up of 75% soft
contaminants that are less than 1-micron in size. They cannot be measured by traditional
particle count, nor can they be filtered out. However, these insoluble compounds have polar
affinities and as such they migrate from the oil to machine surfaces under the influence of
environmental factors such as temperature and pressure. The presence of other
contaminants such as water and wear metal particles further enhances varnish and sludge

Why solids filters don’t work.

In an effort to remove the varnish and sludge precursors, operators are using finer filtration.
While this is totally ineffective, it has the undesirable effect of creating static charge buildup
in the oil system. The discharge of the static charge creates arcs with extremely high
temperatures. This auto-degradation effect further damages the oil.

So….What’s a Mother to do?

Remember cellulose? Remember the hydroxyls (-OH) sticking out all over the millions of
square feet of crystals? AHA!! Varnish and sludge particles are polar compounds that will be
attracted to these hydroxyl spikes. They will bond with them in a process called adsorption,
which is the chemical bonding of particles to a surface called the adsorbent. Adsorption is
dependent on temperature, flow rate, concentration etc. that solids filters are less sensitive

Cellulose fiber filter elements can sustain higher flow rates than normal solids filter elements
and are used in a “kidney-loop” continuous filtration on an oil tank. They are in-expensive
and dependably remove moisture, acids, varnish and sludge.

Activated Carbonized Cellulosic Fibers

Cellulose fibers, such as cotton are hollow as is shown in the photomicrograph below.

After Nan Jian Doctor’s Thesis1

Cotton fiber also has a hollow structure that helps increase surface area and porosity. Use of
ACF for nonwoven production will greatly enhance nonwoven performance and to expand
end-use applications including military protective clothing, solvent recovery, wastewater
treatment, water purification, air cleaning, acoustic insulation. A photo-micrograph of a
cotton fiber is shown below

After Nan Jiang1

Studies have shown that activated carbon fiber with high adsorption capacity and micro-porosity can
be prepared from rayon and cotton nonwoven fabrics by heating at 800 °C for four hours. A photo-
micrograph of carbonized cotton fiber is shown below.
After Nan Jiang1

The Allen Cellulose adsorbent filter cartridges

Standard filters are manufactured using a cellulose filtration medium. A

protective polypropylene netting is applied to the exterior of the cartridge.
Plate end caps that engage most standard industrial filter housings.
Nominal particulate rating (20 μm) is for >85% of a
given size as determined from single-pass particle counting results.*

*Nominal Filter Rating: Filter rating indicating the approximate size

particle, the majority of which will not pass through the filter. It is
generally interpreted as meaning that 85% of the particles of the
size equal to the nominal micron rating will be retained by the filter.

Standard Allen filter cartridge dimensions are 7” x 18” and 11” x 18”. They
are sold in cases of four (4) elements per case.
Common applications are to remove moisture from diesel, kerosene and
Jet A fuel as well as transformer and breaker insulating oil


1. Nan Jiang Doctor’s Thesis, December 2008 Louisiana State University

2. Mantanis, G.I. et al, “Swelling of Compressed Cellulose Fiber Webs in Organic Liquids,
Cellulose” 1995, vol. 2, 1-22.
3. Magats, S. “Varnish in Turbine Oils – Causes, Effects and Solutions”.
4. Atherton, BG., ”Discovering the Root Cause of Varnish Formation” Practicing Oil
Analysis March 2007.
5. Stover, J. “ Adsorption: A Simple and Cost-Effective Solution to Remove Varnish”
Practicing Oil Analysis, March 2008

Key words: cellulose adsorption, activated carbon fibers, adsorption, varnish, sludge