Discarded banana peels and pineapple leaves could soon play an important role in automotive production, safety, and efficiency. A group of scientists in Brazil have recently developed a more efficient way of introducing small fibers from bananas and other fruits (“nano-cellulose fibers”) into plastics production. The group discussed the new process this week at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
The research group, based at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil, has recently generated a new plastic-like substance that is stronger, lighter, and more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic, which is derived mainly from petroleum. According to project leader Alcides Leão, PH.D, fibers from delicate plants such as bananas, pineapples, and the agave plant can be used to produce a plastic material nearly as strong as Kevlar.
“The properties of these plastics are incredible,” Leão said, “They are light, but very strong—30 percent lighter and 3-to-4 times stronger [than normal plastics].”
The nano-cellulose fibers also offer greater resistance to damage from heat, spilled gasoline, water, and oxygen. These mechanical advantages support Leão’s prediction that the new process will be in commercial automotive use within two years:
“We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future.”
Cellulose fiber has been exploited in commercial use since the mid-1800s to produce common items such as paper and textiles. The 1970s saw initial research into nano-cellulose fiber. The material, which is essentially regular cellulose that has been very finely ground and processed, had already been heavily examined and commercially used prior to Sao Paulo State University’s research. The University’s unique advancements stem from its focus on using fruit fiber rather than wood fiber (the traditional base source of nano-cellulose fiber). Leão believes that pineapple leaves and stems, rather than wood, may be the most promising source for nano-cellulose materials in the future.
The production process begins by mixing nano-cellulose with certain chemicals. The mix is pressurized and heated for several cycles. This produces a powder that is then added into plastic production. In the end, the Sao Paulo process uses one pound of nano-cellulose to create 100 pounds of altered plastic. Such a high yield from naturally derived materials surely indicates its promising future as a plastic alternative.
Please read Microfibrillated cellulose, a new cellulose product: properties, uses, and commercial potential for more information.
Andrew Moore has a BS in Finance and is currently pursuing a JD. His interests include finding responsible success through creative, sustainable profit alignment.