The nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with wide-ranging applications, such as strengthening construction materials and automotive components.
Calculations using precise models based on the atomic structure of cellulose show the crystals have a stiffness of 206 gigapascals, which is comparable to steel, said
"This is a material that is showing really amazing properties," he said. "It is abundant, renewable and produced as waste in the paper industry."
Findings are detailed in a research paper featured on the cover of the December issue of the journal Cellulose.
"It is very difficult to measure the properties of these crystals experimentally because they are really tiny," Zavattieri said. "For the first time, we predicted their properties using quantum mechanics."
The nanocrystals are about 3 nanometers wide by 500 nanometers long - or about 1/1,000th the width of a grain of sand - making them too small to study with light microscopes and difficult to measure with laboratory instruments.
The paper was authored by
The findings represent a milestone in understanding the fundamental mechanical behavior of the cellulose nanocrystals.
"It is also the first step towards a multiscale modeling approach to understand and predict the behavior of individual crystals, the interaction between them, and their interaction with other materials," Zavattieri said. "This is important for the design of novel cellulose-based materials as other research groups are considering them for a huge variety of applications, ranging from electronics and medical devices to structural components for the automotive, civil and aerospace industries."
The cellulose nanocrystals represent a potential green alternative to carbon nanotubes for reinforcing materials such as polymers and concrete. Applications for biomaterials made from the cellulose nanocrystals might include biodegradable plastic bags, textiles and wound dressings; flexible batteries made from electrically conductive paper; new drug-delivery technologies; transparent flexible displays for electronic devices; special filters for water purification; new types of sensors; and computer memory.
Cellulose could come from a variety of biological sources including trees, plants, algae, ocean-dwelling organisms called tunicates, and bacteria that create a protective web of cellulose.
Keywords for this news article include: Automobiles, Nanotechnology, Transportation,
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