|MFC viewed via atomic force microscope. Source: Notley.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports that a Kyoto University research team has developed a material based on microfibrillar cellulose (MFC) that is as tough as metal, but much lighter. The team projects that the material could replace metals and oil-based plastics in a number of structural applications, including auto bodies.
Led by Professor Hiroyuki Yano, the team has begun collaborative R&D with Matsushita Electric Works Ltd. and auto-related manufacturers to develop ways of processing the material into complex shapes.
Microfibrillation destroys the original bundles of cellulose fibers in plants, and creates a new structure consisting of tiny interconnected microfibrils. Microfibrillar cellulose has been under investigation since the 1980s for use in a wide variety of products.
The Kyoto team developed a process to untie the bundles in solution so the individual cellulose fibers could be packed even closer together, resulting in a material with even greater strength.
Hardened into a sheet, these cellulose fibers become a material that is as strong as aluminum alloy, but just half the weight. If the fibers are mixed with phenol resin and hardened, they become a material that responds like magnesium alloy when subjected to a distorting force. This material could be used in place of soft steel for building frames, despite being one-fifth the weight of soft steel.