Plant material is harder than aluminum alloys. How is this possible?

(ORDO NEWS) — The scientists created a composite of cellulose nanocrystals mixed with a small amount of a synthetic polymer. It turned out that it is stronger than bones and harder than some aluminum alloys.

Who would have thought that such a strong bioplastic could be made from ordinary cellulose?

The cell wall of wood is built from cellulose fibers, the most common polymer in nature and the main structural component of all plants and algae. Inside each fiber are reinforcing cellulose nanocrystals, which are chains of organic polymers arranged in a crystal structure.

At the nanoscale, these nanocrystals are stronger and tougher than Kevlar. If it were possible to obtain high-grade materials from them, plant composites could become stronger, more stable and tougher. In the new work, scientists have found a way to do this.

They have developed a material that contains 60 to 90 percent by volume of cellulose nanocrystals – the highest proportion of such structures to date.

The researchers found that the cellulose-based composite is stronger than some types of bone and harder than typical aluminum alloys. The material has a microstructure reminiscent of mother-of-pearl, the hard inner shell of some molluscs.

What is most interesting, such a composite can be obtained both using 3D printing and conventional casting. The authors printed and cast the composite into pieces of film the size of a small coin, which were used to test the strength and hardness of the material.

They also machined the composite into a tooth shape to show that the material could one day be used to make cellulose-based dental implants — and, for that matter, any plastic products.

In fact, scientists have introduced a versatile bioplastic that could be a sustainable replacement for some of the existing plastics that are in widespread use today.

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