New plant-derived material is stronger than bone and hard as aluminum

Researchers from MIT have engineered a new composite material from a majority of cellulose nanocrystals and a synthetic polymer.

Published Fri, Feb 11 2022 5:21 AM CST   |   Updated Wed, Mar 9 2022 7:04 AM CST

A study on the new material has been published in the journal Cellulose.

New plant-derived material is stronger than bone and hard as aluminum 01 |

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have engineered a new composite material made from cellulose and synthetic polymer. Cellulose fibers give all plant cells their structural rigidity and comprise cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs). On a nanoscale, these CNCs are stronger and stiffer than Kevlar.

The CNCs make up 60 to 90 percent of the composite, the highest fraction achieved to date, with the rest made up of synthetic polymer. The microscale structure of the composite is similar to a brick-and-mortar structure. The researchers say the composite is stronger and tougher than some types of bone and harder than typical aluminum alloys.

"By creating composites with CNCs at high loading, we can give polymer-based materials mechanical properties they never had before. If we can replace some petroleum-based plastic with naturally-derived cellulose, that's arguably better for the planet as well," said A. John Hart, professor of mechanical engineering.

"We basically deconstructed wood, and reconstructed it. We took the best components of wood, which is cellulose nanocrystals, and reconstructed them to achieve a new composite material. If you could avoid shrinkage, you could keep scaling up, maybe to the meter scale. Then, if we were to dream big, we could replace a significant fraction of plastics with cellulose composites," said Abhinav Rao, Ph.D.

You can read more from the study here.

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Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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