Graphene Not the Only Wonder MaterialCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 30, 2012 06:31AM
I do not want to know just how many news items I have written on graphene but I know that wonder material has been brought up many times. It is not the only wonder material out there though, and at least one of them may have an even greater impact on the world than the atom-thick sheet of carbon. Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) is produced by processing wood pulp but is very strong, conductive, and transparent, like our carbon-allotrope friend (though not necessarily to as great an extreme as graphene).
To produce NCC, wood has to be purified to remove unwanted compounds, like lignin and hemicellulose. This eventually leaves a paste made of crystals of NCC, which can then be made into strands or allowed to dry, depending on what you want to use it for. With a strength-to-weight ratio eight times that of stainless steel, it could be used for body armor or car parts. Already it is being used to in displays by Pioneer Electronics and even computer components by IBM.
Obviously as this material comes from wood, it is quite plentiful and cheap to produce, with one estimate predicting it will be just several dollars a kilogram in a couple years. However, it does not have to be made from large pieces of wood. The NCC crystals are just 200 nm long, so we can harvest them from branches, twigs, and even sawdust that may otherwise be discarded as waste.