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Biodegradable Fibers As Strong As Steel Made From Wood Cellulose 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the wood-is-the-new-steel dept.
Zothecula writes "A team of researchers working at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology claim to have developed a way to make cellulose fibers stronger than steel on a strength-to-weight basis. In what is touted as a world first, the team from the institute's Wallenberg Wood Science Center claim that the new fiber could be used as a biodegradable replacement for many filament materials made today from imperishable substances such as fiberglass, plastic, and metal. And all this from a substance that requires only water, wood cellulose, and common table salt to create it. The full academic paper is available from Nature Communications."
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Biodegradable Fibers As Strong As Steel Made From Wood Cellulose

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is this a Carbon Fiber competitor?

  • by LordLucless (582312) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @02:20AM (#47209601)

    Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel". Durability, heat tolerance, reaction to moisture and a host of other things are likely to mean it's not a drop-in replacement for fibreglass/plastic/metal.

    • by abhi_beckert (785219) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @02:29AM (#47209623)

      Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel". Durability, heat tolerance, reaction to moisture and a host of other things are likely to mean it's not a drop-in replacement for fibreglass/plastic/metal.

      Fibreglass is terrible at all of the things you just listed and we use it for all kinds of things. It just has to be coated with a thin protective layer.

      • by SpzToid (869795)

        Good point. Also, actually using wood for construction, (instead of just burning it up), is a way to store carbon. In fact if you look at the diversion of resources to make plastic, steel, etc., vs. putting more effort into this wood-fiber technology, this could be a good method to help curb greenhouse gasses.

    • Wow, having read the links I cannot find any claim in them to the effect that the new material will be a drop-in replacement for those. Hysterical much?

      • From the first link:
        “Our research may lead to a new construction material that can be used anywhere where you have components based on glass fibers"

        From the second link:
        "The team from the institute's Wallenberg Wood Science Center claim that the new fiber could be used as a biodegradable replacement for many filament materials made today from imperishable substances such as fiberglass, plastic, and metal."

        Literacy much?

        • by mwvdlee (775178)

          Neither of those claim it to be a drop-in replacement for all the properties of steel.
          Of in fact for ANY property of steel.

          • Neither of those claim it to be a drop-in replacement for all the properties of steel. Of in fact for ANY property of steel.

            True, but they do dispute the claim in the original post:
            "Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel". Durability, heat tolerance, reaction to moisture and a host of other things are likely to mean it's not a drop-in replacement for fibreglass/plastic/metal."

          • They probably didn't mean a direct substitute. Just like when ballistic helmets stopped being manufactured from steel and started being manufactured from HDPE - it didn't mean that they merely replaced steel with HDPE while keeping the geometry (mainly thickness) identical.
    • by sribe (304414)

      Also, "stronger than steel" by weight is nothing new at all. Glued laminated beams ("lambeams") are stronger than steel by weight, and were first used in the late 19th century.

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel".

      In fact, one of the important properties of steel is that it is not biodegradable. The last thing anybody wants is to have an office in the 54th floor of a building made out of material that is touted for how easily it degrades.

    • Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel". Durability, heat tolerance, reaction to moisture and a host of other things are likely to mean it's not a drop-in replacement for fiberglass/plastic/metal.

      Don't forget Termite resistance. :-)

    • Stronger than steel is cool and all, but that doesn't necessarily mean "all the same properties of steel". Durability, heat tolerance, reaction to moisture and a host of other things are likely to mean it's not a drop-in replacement for fibreglass/plastic/metal.

      snip Yeah, steel loves moisture, suuure...

  • How fast will it "biodegrade" while it's actually used to, say, sustain a bridge? :)

    • When was the last time someone made a bridge out of fibreglass?

      That's the kind of material its designed to replace.

      My question would be how biodegradable is it when it's covered in epoxy?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Ly4 (2353328)

        When was the last time someone made a bridge out of fibreglass?
        http://www.scsolutions.com/fib... [scsolutions.com]
        http://www.ettechtonics.com/ [ettechtonics.com]

      • There are resin based replacements in development to solve that problem too.
        It would often still need a thin waterproofing application so the product doesn't rot while in use. When the product is shredded for biodegradation that thin layer is only a small problem.

      • I was thinking about the fiberglass, and realized it doesn't necessarily refer to fiber-reinforced resin sheets. Fiberglass insulation has very little in the way of other ingredients in it...

        And cellulose has a long history as an insulation material (it has pluses and minuses), anything that would make it lighter on a volume basis would improve it's insulation properties.

    • by wherrera (235520)

      The first rain storm should do it.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      This was my first reaction. This new material may not be suitable all on its own, but rather become an element in a composite structure - like carbon fiber and fiberglass. In that case, it probably won't be biodegradable at all, because it will be encased in epoxy, which is pretty much permanent.
  • Look, it's a bird, it's a plane, its PulpMan!!!!

  • Now that's an achievement.

    Well, that's how I first read it anyway.

    • Then, of it's made from wood...

      It's a witch!

    • Actually:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Look down the list for stainless steel... then carry on down to 'balsa'.

      Yup. Wood has a better strength to weigh ratio than stainless steel. (Only along the grain though but plywood fixes that, and you can put the strength in the direction you need it.)

      Although they're not in the table, other woods are similar, but more dense.

      • by fnj (64210) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @12:03PM (#47213017)

        "Stronger than steel" or "stronger than x", by either absolute measure or ratio of strength to weight, doesn't mean shit. There are a million factors.

        1) What kind of steel? Tensile yield strength (MPa) is all over the place:
        ASTM A36 structural steel: 250
        API 5L X65: 448
        AISI 4130, water quenched 855C (1570F), 480C (900F) temper: 951
        Aermet 340: 2160
        2800 maraging steel: 2617
        Micro-Melt 10 Tough Treated Tool Steel (AISI A11): 5171

        Usually when someone says "stronger than steel" they mean stronger than crappy A36 or the like. If you're going to build a fabric-covered fuselage, you use the 4130. If you've got a building or bridge to erect, you use something closer to A36. For a cutting bit, tool steel. It is brittle as hell but harder than any steel you can use structurally; takes and keeps a wicket edge when ground.

        2) Do you care about anything besides tensile yield strength? Just say yes. It matters. Such properties as the following:
        Elastic modules
        Compressive strength
        Hardness
        Toughness
        Elongation
        Endurance limit / fatigue properties
        Resistance to corrosion and other degradation

        Many of these properties play off against each other. Want hard or tough? Pick one. They are inversely related. Want something that is mechanically workable? It better have decent elongation, which limits achievable strength. On the other hand, piano wire doesn't need to be very workable at all. It has fantastic strength.

        3) What safety factor will you require? Depends on a number of factors, and one of these factors is material chosen. Balsa needs a much higher safety factor than steel or aluminum alloy. Its mechanical properties are much more variable, and it tends to have imperfections.

        These are just some of the factors that make the simplified table you reference horse shit. Bottom line, if you are building a bridge or airplane to highly optimized requirements, suitable steel or aluminum alloy is going to give you a lot less weight for the same safety-factored strength as balsa - completely aside from temperature/humidity limits, flammability, and liability to rot.

        • I don't think you quite understand.

          Wood is an excellent engineering material, it's widely used in construction, and can and has been very successfully used for ships, aircraft etc. During WWII, even when aluminium alloys were available, British designers used wood, to make very highly successful, fast, and very robust aircraft like the de Havilland Mosquito.

          Yes, of course you have to consider multiple properties, but actually, wood is very good under lots of different properties, particularly compression, a

  • Many man made materials are just as strong as steel, but the resilliency is the important part. steel can be wet, hot, dry, cold, and in many cases still be within an acceptable performance range for its intended use. particle board for example is often as strong as steel, but degradation under humidity makes it unsuitable for most applications.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Biodegradable Fibers, As Strong As Steel, Made From Wood Cellulose

  • Now I know why trees can withstand tactical nukes in games, but my futuristic super armor can't handle a direct hit from a rocket.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Probably time to re-read Jules Verne. His character Robur built the Albatross out of paper...

  • Sure, if it's cheaper, great, but is the "imperishability" of steel really a problem? Iron is the most recycled material on the planet....

  • by fygment (444210) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @08:11AM (#47210997)

    Not sure that the use case is very compelling. Usually things made strong, say fiber reinforced plastic, are meant to be durable. Furthermore, if the cellulose fibers don't degrade uniformly, you would end up with very unpredictable failure modes.

  • Many of the things built out of steel are things we don't want degrading any time soon.

  • Fiberglass is actually a composite made of epoxy (or other) resin, with glass fibers embedded in it for tensile strength.

    Until you have a biodegradable epoxy to go with your biodegradable cellulose cloth, there isn't any point.

    I don't think fiberglass itself is used for strength in other applications, but for its fire-retardant properties (insulation wool, glass cloth). Good luck with cellulose there.

  • I suppose its possible to make steel from wood cellulose (and iron ore) but you're going to need more energy input.
    Generally the carbon used to make steel comes from coal, so using a renewable source of carbon is betteer for the environment, but where do you get the extra energy?

  • When are we going to switch to hemp? After all, if you really want to be green, something that grows faster, producers longer stronger fibers, easier to harvest, less polluting to process, etc, etc... and we already use it in construction, awesome paper, and clothing.

    The US has certainly done a disservice to the world with it's Reefer madness.

    • by dkman (863999)
      +1 damn it, where are my mod points?

      The sails used by Columbus, the jeans created by Levi, and who knows what else used hemp materials. The parchment the Constitution was written on could have been created using hemp fibers (it wasn't, it was animal skin-based, but it could have been). Hemp fibers are stronger and longer than many other plants out there that the US is "allowed" to use in manufacturing. Even after a modified version of the plant that didn't get you high was created the laws banning it's
  • replacement for many filament materials made today from imperishable substances such as fiberglass, plastic, and metal. And all this from a substance that requires only water, wood cellulose, and common table salt to create it

    I would hate to be the poor bastard in the factory whose job it is to stand there shaking the salt cellar all day.

  • The big question is: strong enough to tether the space elevator?

  • I recall wood structures work by compressing wood, while steel structures extends steels. Does that mean there are situations where this new fibers cannot replace steel? Or is it always possible to swap extension for compression for any design?
  • Ford is using destroyed cash from the Treasury in their materials research for this exact reason.

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