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The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10570-018-1749-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The layer-by-layer (LbL) technology was used to adsorb polyelectrolyte multilayers consisting of cationic polyethylenimine (PEI) and anionic sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP) onto cellulose fibers in order to enhance the flame-retardancy and tensile strength of paper sheets made from these fibers. The fundamental effect of PEI molecular mass on the build-up of the multilayer film was investigated using model cellulose surfaces and a quartz crystal microbalance technique. The adsorption of a low (LMw) and a high molecular weight (HMw) PEI onto cellulose fibers and carboxymethylated (CM) cellulose fibers was investigated using polyelectrolyte titration. The fibers were consecutively treated with PEI and SHMP to deposit 3.5 bilayers (BL) on the fiber surfaces, and the treated fibers were then used to prepare sheets. In addition, a wet-strength paper sheet was prepared and treated with the same LbL coatings. Thermal gravimetric analysis of LbL-treated fibers showed that the onset temperature for cellulose degradation was lowered and that the amount of residue at 800 °C increased. A horizontal flame test and a vertical flame test were used to evaluate the combustion behavior of the paper sheets. Papers prepared from both cellulose fibers and CM-cellulose fibers treated with HMw-PEI/SHMP LbL-combination self-extinguished in a horizontal configuration despite the rather low amounts of adsorbed polymer which form very thin films (wet thickness of ca. 17 nm). The tensile properties of handsheets showed that 3.5 BL of HMw-PEI and SHMP increased the stress at break by 100% compared to sheets prepared from untreated cellulose fibers.