For a long time, spider silk was regarded as the strongest material on earth. Until, that is, the limpet arrived, showed its teeth, and pushed the spider into second place. The limpet’s tooth was revealed to be the strongest natural material known to man. Researchers compared the strength of the teeth with the fibres found in bulletproof vests. Scientists have now engineered a superlative material using cellulose nanofibers. Will the plant world trump the animal world?
The research team led by scientist Daniel Söderberg of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, working with the research institute RISE Bioeconomy, Stanford University and the University of Michigan, has engineered a super-fibre that is eight times stiffer and 20 per cent stronger than spider silk. This consists in principle of nanocomponents, evolutionary building blocks used to build trees and plants, which are squeezed together in a particle accelerator. The special process used to make the world’s strongest fibre to date is known as hydrodynamic focussing.
In comparisons of fibres, tensile strength and bending stiffness are key values. Here, the new fibre surpasses steel, metals and fibreglass as well as most other synthetic materials. Söderberg sees the strong bio-based material as an environmentally friendly alternative to plastics in the automotive industry, in furniture and aviation. Because cellulose is not rejected by the body, it could also have applications in the biomedical sector, for instance in prosthetics. Another positive aspect is that the manufacturing costs for materials made using cellulose fibres are comparable with the production costs for synthetic materials. This is not only a new world record – but also an exciting future prospect.
#Innovation #Fibres #Sustainability #Spider silk #Stockholm #Sweden
Illustration: DESY/Eberhard Reimann
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