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Strengthening materials through nano-extracts from trees

By Tim Sandle     Aug 1, 2016 in Science
Could parts of a tree be used to strengthen car bumpers and fenders? Could these biological parts be recycled from trees felled in the rainforest? This idea may seem bizarre but it has the potential to protect cars from bumps and crashes.
Researchers have found that parts of trees can be transformed into liquid suspensions of tiny rod-like structures. The rods are very small and are on the nanoscale. The cellulosic nanomaterials can be used as the basis of a material than can be added to automobile parts in order to strengthen them.
The reason for strengthening these parts of the car is to protect vehicles (and the driver) should an impact occur. The nano-materials reduce the chance of the material breaking or distorting upon impact. In trials the material can receive three or four standard impacts without significant damage occurring. A further advantage of using the tree material is that the parts are biodegradable, so when a car has reached the end of its life the parts can go for composting (rather than landfill.)
The nanocellulose fibrils can be isolated from the wood-based fibers using mechanical methods which expose the pulp to high shear forces, ripping the larger wood fibres apart into nanofibers. To create the finished material, the researchers will use a supercritical fluid as a plasticizer. This, according to Controlled Environments magazine, enables nano-reinforcements to disperse through a polymer. The material has a strength equivalent to aluminium and a toughness close to that of Kevlar.
The idea came from Dr. Srikanth Pilla at Clemson University — which has teamed up with the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.
The development remains at an early stage although the results are promising enough for the USDA to fund the project to the tune of $481,000 over the next five years. Commenting on the project, Craig Clemons, from the USDA said: “We find appropriate outlets for all kinds of forest-derived materials. In this case, it’s cellulosic nanomaterials.”
The trees used for the development will be those removed during forest restoration projects, which are carried out to minimize the impact of wildfires.
More about Nanoparticles, Trees, Cars, bumpers, Nanotechnology
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