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article image'Kyoto Process' looks to cellulose nanofibers instead of steel

By Karen Graham     Aug 16, 2017 in Technology
Kyoto - Scientists are working with plastics and cellulose nanofibers to create a product that is five-times lighter than steel but will be five-times stronger.
Aptly called the Kyoto Process after the Kyoto University laboratory in Japan where the research is taking place, the process aims to reduce the cost of producing vehicles while making them lighter using wood pulp.
Automakers have been using high-tensile steel, aluminum alloys, and carbon fiber to make vehicles lighter, but the new research claims that cellulose nanofibers would be five-times lighter than traditional materials used in auto manufacturing. And as more automakers turn to electric vehicle production, batteries will be a critical component and lighter weight cars will mean fewer batteries will be needed to power the vehicle, reducing costs.
"Lightweighting is a constant issue for us," said Masanori Matsushiro, a project manager overseeing body design at Toyota Motor Corp, reports Reuters. "But we also have to resolve the issue of high manufacturing costs before we see an increased use of new, lighter-weight materials in mass-volume cars."
CC License: Attrition  No derivative work.
CC License: Attrition, No derivative work.
The Japan Times
Denso Corp, Toyota's biggest supplier, and DaikyoNishikawa Corp are working with researchers to incorporate cellulose nanofibers into plastic. Cellulose nanofibers are made by breaking down wood pulp fibers into several hundredths of a micron-sized (one thousandth of a millimeter) pieces.
In the so-called Kyoto Process, cellulose fibers are kneaded into plastics while at the same time being broken down into nanofibers. This process is said to reduce production costs to one-fifth of other processes.
“This is the lowest-cost, highest-performance application for cellulose nanofibers, and that’s why we’re focusing on its use in auto and aircraft parts,” research leader and Kyoto University Professor Hiroaki Yano told Reuters, according to Motor Trend.
It will be a number of years before we see cellulose nanofibers used in making car parts, though, despite their many benefits. Auto manufacturers would have to revamp their production lines and the cost of producing the new material would have to come down.
Poyholes increase vehicle maintenance costs.
Poyholes increase vehicle maintenance costs.
Infrastructure Report Card
Right now, the cost of mass producing a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cellulose nanofiber is about $9 while the cost of 1kg of steel or aluminum is about $2 a kilogram. Researchers say that by 2030, the costs of the mass production of cellulose nanofibers should be slashed in half, making the material competitive in the manufacture of vehicles.
Plastics being used in the manufacture of car parts is one thing, but a start-up company in the UK is also looking to incorporate recycled plastics into paving material for roads. Called MacRebur, the founders came up with an innovative idea to take a mix of waste plastics, pelletize them and add them into the making of an enhanced asphalt road.
The material, dubbed MR6, is made with 100-percent recycled plastic materials and can reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills. Not only is it considered a greener alternative, but it’s also 60 percent stronger and last 10 times longer than standard asphalt. It’s more resistant to cracks and potholes and is cheaper than traditional solutions, the company says.
More about wood pulp, Cellulose, nanofibers, Applications, cost versus carbon products