Cellulosic nano-fibers from fruit promise 'super-green' car parts

By KBB.com Editors on March 28, 2011 12:49 PM

According to a research team from Sao Paulo State University in Sao Paulo, Brazil, leaves stems and other non-edible elements from a number of tropical fruits -- including various types of bananas and pineapples as well material from coconut husks -- will play a significant role in developing greener and more sustainable components for the cars of tomorrow. Properly processing their normal waste products using a chemically-augmented high-pressure technique yeilds a strain of totally renewable cellulosic nano-particles, that are almost as strong as Kevlar, yet weigh far less than conventional petroleum-based plastics and also offer superior damage resistance.

Speaking over the weekend at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, study leader Alcides Leão, Ph.D., called the properties of plastics incredible. "They are light, but very strong -- 30 percent lighter and three-to-four times stronger. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers and side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy." Although admitting that the initial rendering process that generates this talcum-like extract is somewhat pricey, the upside is that only one pound of nano-cellulose is required to make 100 pounds of lightweight plastic.

"So far, we're focusing on replacing automotive plastics," said Leão, who expects to see the first of these parts turn up in vehicles within the next couple of years. "But in the future, we may be able to replace steel and aluminum automotive parts using these plant-based nano-cellulose materials."