Cellulose is a very common material as it is what gives a great deal of plant-matter its strength, without being too heavy. Studying its properties however has proven difficult, due to the small size of its crystals. Researchers at Purdue University however, decided to build a model of the crystals based on quantum mechanics, and have come to a surprising conclusion.
Cellulose nanocrystals are about three nanometers wide and five hundred nanometers long, which is too small to see under a light microscope and small enough to make laboratory instruments almost useless. This is why the researchers decided to use a computer model instead. Assuming that model is correct, cellulose crystals should have a stiffness of 206 gigapascals, which is near that of steel. Unlike steel though, cellulose is renewable and the waste product of many processes, making it cheap and abundant.
The potential applications of cellulose-based nanomaterials are almost limitless as this strength could be used to reinforce almost anything. At the same time the properties of cellulose can be manipulated by adding other chemicals, possibly allowing batteries to use conductive paper, transparent flexible displays, and more.
Source: Purdue University