Renewable material is stronger than plastics used today
In the automotive world, most cars are made from aluminum, steel, and sometimes plastics and other composite materials. The high-end exotic cars are often made from carbon fiber thanks to its strength and lightweight. The cost of carbon fiber keeps the material out of the mainstream market.
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In the future, our cars might be made from some unlikely materials like pineapple and banana. Scientists in Brazil have developed a new way to use the fibers that occur naturally in this sort of plant in a new generation of plastics for vehicles. The plastics they have developed are lighter, stronger, and more sustainable than what is used in cars today.
The fibers from the fruit are used to reinforce the plastics by the scientist and are known as nano-cellulose fibers. They are about as stiff as Kevlar and are renewable rather than being made from a petroleum base.
"The properties of these plastics are incredible," Leão said, "They are light, but very strong — 30 per cent lighter and 3-to-4 times stronger. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, 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."
The plastic also has benefits other than strength as well. They are more resistant the damage from heat, spilled gasoline, water, and oxygen. The tram thinks that the new plastic will be used in production cars within the next two years.
The plastic uses the pineapple leaves and stems rather than the wood or fruit. That means that the plastic uses a lot of material that would generally be thrown away. The plastic can also be made using fibers from coconut shells, agave plant and other plants.
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"So far, we're focusing on replacing automotive plastics," said Leão. "But in the future, we may be able to replace steel and aluminum automotive parts using these plant-based nano-cellulose materials."