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Fruit fibers used to create 'green' plastic for cars


March 30, 2011

A research team from Brazil has developed a new form of plant fiber-based plastic that is ...

A research team from Brazil has developed a new form of plant fiber-based plastic that is claimed to be almost as stiff as Kevlar and stronger, lighter, and more eco-friendly than plastics currently in use (Image credit: Peter Bubenik)

A research team from Brazil has developed a new form of plant fiber-based plastic that is claimed to be stronger, lighter, and more eco-friendly than plastics currently in use. Team leader Alcides Leão says that some of the so-called nano-cellulose fibers can be almost as stiff as Kevlar, but that the plastic differs from many in widespread use because the source material – such as pineapple and banana – is completely renewable. The researchers say that current production efforts are centered around the manufacture of automotive plastics, but future development could see steel and aluminum being replaced.

Ordinary-sized cellulose particles extracted from wood and then ground up have been used for centuries in the manufacture of paper. Recently, researchers have discovered that intensive processing of such material results in tiny fiber particles being produced. Mixing in these tiny cellulose fiber particles – so small that about 50,000 could fit across the width of a human hair – during the manufacture of plastic is said to result in a strong and durable end product.

Leão believes that pineapple leaves and stems, or the closely related curauá, could be a promising source of readily-available nano-cellulose. The leaves and stems are placed in a kind of pressure cooker, where certain chemicals are added to the mix. After several heat cycles, a fine powder is produced. The scientists from Sao Paulo State University admit that the process is currently a costly one, but state that one pound of nano-cellulose can be used to generate 100 pounds of reinforced plastic. Other possible sources include the ever useful banana, coir fibers from coconut shells and sisal fibers produced from the agave plant.

"The properties of these plastics are incredible," Leão said, "They are light, but very strong – 30 per cent lighter and 3 to 4 times stronger. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy."

Mechanical advantages over plastics currently used in automobile manufacture are said to include a greater resistance to damage from heat, spilled gasoline, water, and oxygen.

Leão says that manufacturers have already had promising results from tests of nano-cellulose-reinforced plastics. Similar developments have also shown promise for medical applications like replacement hip joints, artificial heart valves and ligaments.

The results of the study were recently presented at the 241st National Meeting and Exhibition of the American Chemical Society.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden

Just LEGALIZE HEMP Already!!

30th March, 2011 @ 09:11 am PDT

Good link detailing the industrial and commercial applications of hemp:

Henry Ford's first Model-T was built to run on hemp gasoline and the CAR ITSELF WAS CONSTRUCTED FROM HEMP! On his large estate, Ford was photographed among his hemp fields. The car, 'grown from the soil,' had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 times stronger than steel; Popular Mechanics, 1941.

Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, designed it to run on vegetable and seed oils like hemp; he actually ran the thing on peanut oil for the 1900 World's Fair. Henry Ford used hemp to not only construct cars but also fuel them.

David Richard Tobin
31st March, 2011 @ 05:54 am PDT

Any research/developement in this field is admirable....wonderful....'nuff said?

31st March, 2011 @ 10:00 am PDT

"30% lighter & 3-4 times stronger"? Is present plastic too weak? How about making same strength plastic that's 95% lighter? Now that would be more practical.

31st March, 2011 @ 11:57 am PDT

It's nice that the byproducts of pineapple and banana fibers are food, something that people actually need.

Jon Davis
8th April, 2011 @ 01:26 pm PDT

Government should adopt no waste policy. We can save energy, power, public health and so many things. Ministers please read this.

Ajay Sanghrajka
12th September, 2012 @ 12:14 pm PDT
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