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Biotech Science Technology

Wood Pulp Extract Stronger Than Carbon Fiber Or Kevlar 208

Zothecula writes "The Forest Products Laboratory of the US Forest Service has opened a US$1.7 million pilot plant for the production of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) from wood by-products materials such as wood chips and sawdust. Prepared properly, CNCs are stronger and stiffer than Kevlar or carbon fibers, so that putting CNC into composite materials results in high strength, low weight products. In addition, the cost of CNCs is less than ten percent of the cost of Kevlar fiber or carbon fiber. These qualities have attracted the interest of the military for use in lightweight armor and ballistic glass (CNCs are transparent), as well as companies in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, and medical industries."
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Wood Pulp Extract Stronger Than Carbon Fiber Or Kevlar

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  • by Zibodiz ( 2160038 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:01PM (#41224503)
    One of the biggest problems with building a race car/truck is often the cost of the materials. The stiffer frames built from carbon fiber are insanely expensive. Imagine if we could build a frame out of this for around the cost of steel --the technology could then be used in ordinary cars, with a huge weight savings, and a safer, stronger frame. It could revolutionize the automotive design industry.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:17PM (#41224705)

    Uh, at least in the US and Canada the trees used for making pulp come from forests owned by the paper companies and they sure as hell replant them when they harvest. Mead Westvaco (as an example) has a fairly long term view of things, they own 3M acres and process them in a fashion that minimizes the amount of land they have to purchase to meet demand. The only bad thing about timber harvesting is that there's no old growth forests, but those were cut down generations ago and have little to nothing to do with modern forestry practices.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:34PM (#41224953)

    Actually they generally don't do that, because one blight or beetle means they lose an entire plot for many years, plus their plants will have varying needs and having the cutting crews constantly moving equipment to meet demand is inefficient. Christmas tree farms are a different animal, there the trees are planted and harvested in a handful of years and the harvest season is very short so making things as monoculture as possible is seen as an advantage (plus if you lose a crop your downtime is significantly less).

  • by Scarred Intellect ( 1648867 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:47PM (#41225137) Homepage Journal

    Current body armor (and I'm talking about the Interceptor vest, MTV (Modular Tactical Vest) and the Plate Carrier) don't have anything to do with the word "flexibility". The armor plates (Small Arms Protective Inserts, or SAPI) are stiff; they're slightly contoured, the front being the same contour as the back, which makes sense if you're disfigured I suppose...I digress...

    Since current vests don't provide flexibility at all, then the CNC being stiffer won't have much of an effect. It will, however, be wonderful to save on weight, those vests get cumbersome fast. But those are ceramic. Replacing those would be much more effective than replacing the Kevlar, I would think, in terms of weight-saving.

    The Kevlar itself is light enough (disclaimer: I was an infantry machine gunner), it's the SAPI plates that were/are horrible to deal with.

  • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:55PM (#41225229) Journal

    How is this different than fields of wheat or corn?

    Do they not have any process to prevent competition?

    They don't damage the soil the same way... but yeah, they're pretty bad too.

    For a smarter way, I'd suggest checking out Geoff Lawton's DVD "Establishing a Food Forest the Permaculture Way". You can view some decent excerpts searching Youtube for the term "Lawton's Guide To Permaculture Design and Strategy"

    Food forests are complex and thus not friendly to automation, so it's not a profitable way for one man to establish himself as the gatekeeper to the cupboards of a million of his fellows.

    However, they're less expensive in terms of materials, produce significantly more food in the same space, require no maintenance, and once they're built, they can and have lasted thousands of years.

    Example: 300 year old food forest in Vietnam []

    Example: 2000 year old food forest in Morocco []

    I used his principles when designing a border of perennial food-bearing plants to protect our local urban garden society site from hungry homeless people. Now instead of raiding peoples personal plots, they feed themselves from the edge and go on their merry way. I'm determined to leave an oasis to my children when I die, and hope to be able to get the land and get started with the labour in the next couple of years.

  • Re:Paper armor (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @02:01PM (#41225299)

    I *knew* I should have patented the paper armor I made for myself when I was a kid.

    Mythbusters did it - they made effective (for some uses) paper armor that fit descriptions of such from ancient China.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @02:23PM (#41225615) Homepage Journal

    That's a proper boast right there.

    Ever eat a burger in a high school cafeteria? You'd alreayd know how tough cellulose can be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @02:56PM (#41226067)

    I am so tired of this star trek transparent aluminum meme. The whole concept is dumb to begin with. Glass would be too heavy to hold the weight of the whale and the water, but metal would be strong enough. There is no reason for it to also be clear like glass. They don't need no freakin' aquarium in space! They just need a box to transport the whale and water, they don't need to see through it, they can always look in from the top. OK, I'll go have another red bull and a bag of cheetos for lunch and hopefully I won't get too much of the orange stuff on my neck beard or that new girl in accounting will make fun of me again.

  • by ace37 ( 2302468 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @03:10PM (#41226229) Homepage

    This will require some years of development, but it certainly shows promise.

    The strength and stiffness of a fiber are not the performance we'll directly obtain from the materials. It's more like a potential number. Typical 'carbon fiber' products have on the order of 60%-75% fiber and 40%-30% plastic by volume, where epoxy is one of the most common plastics. The carbon fibers contribute strength and stiffness, but it would fracture easily with a rigid binder. The softer plastic binder acts to share and redistribute loading efficiently (after some fibers break) to keep the carbon fibers more or less all carrying load effectively.

    They'll have to go experiment until they find which plastics work well with this. That took a long time for composites since if the plastic binds too strongly to the fibers, the resulting composite is very brittle and loses a lot of potential strength. Also, to optimize the bond strength, carbon/kevlar/glass/etc fibers are typically treated with a 'sizing' that help the fibers bind optimally to a targeted plastic or set of plastics. Hopefully this new material can leapfrog off of the progress and work of the composites industry. Humidity will also be a concern that requires some testing and may cause some compromise on binder selection.

    Also, 'typical' fiber properties really depend on the application. A typical aerospace carbon fiber is Hexcel IM7, which shows considerable improvement over the properties they reported in the article, and others can be a fair bit better or worse. The IM7 6k tow fiber is reported to have:
    Ultimate Tensile Strength: 5.15 GPa
    Elastic Modulus: 276 GPa []

    Sample properties of one finished product provide:
    Ultimate Tensile Strength: 2.5 GPa
    Elastic Modulus: 163 GPa []

    A few years ago the least expensive carbon fiber would sell for ~$15/lb raw material with the epoxy typically around $9/lb, and the IM7 fiber above is probably an order of magnitude more costly. I don't know what figures they used for their cost comparison, but they can't really have the whole cradle to grave process figured out at this stage anyway, so we'll see what happens when they get some material fabricated.

    There's a lot of work ahead, but this seems promising!

  • Cold molding (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @03:32PM (#41226475)
    Far from it. Many boats are made by "cold molding", in which you start with a mold and build up your own plywood layers on top using thin veneers and epoxy resin. The result is light, strong, and very water resistant indeed if done properly. Some woods such as mahogany and utile are already extremely strong and stiff (comparing equivalent mass/area) compared to e.g. aluminum and fiberglass, and this looks like it would be more of the same, only much easier to form.
  • by bdwoolman ( 561635 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @05:11PM (#41227663) Homepage

    Paper demand is very sluggish in the developed world. The slow death (or metamorphosis) of the newspaper industry that is directly related to the digital publishing revolution is clearly responsible. The less-paper world is coming. It's coming later than many thought it would, but the paper companies are really feeling it. A friend who follows the paper industry told me that projected paper demand is a full thirty percent lower now than expected in the developed world. Not that demand is actually shrinking, it is just growing slower -- a lot slower -- than earlier trends projected. The developing world is more robust. Corporate investments in forests are by nature long-term. And there is a glut due to demand not growing as projected. Hence intensive research -- as seen in this FA -- into other ways to use pulp in quantity.

    I briefly looked for something comprehensive to make my point and found this article from Paper Age. [] It is pretty general, but the writing is on the wall-mounted tablet display.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein