Stronger than Kevlar: Plastic Reinforced with Nanocellulose Fibers from Pineapples!

21 April 2011 5,597 views 2 Comments

It’s always a shock to find out that something you thought you made up is actually (or at least mostly) true.  Take the post I wrote for April Fool’s Day about a new plastic made from pulverized Tulip leaves: I thought that heating and then pulverizing plant fibers into a fine powder and suspending them in a polymer matrix to make a super-strong material was a crazy idea of my own making that sounded faintly feasible.  As it turns out, Brazilian researchers at Sao Paulo State University are at this very moment working on a new plastic reinforced with pulverized plant fibers that is more robust than Kevlar!  FACT!

Image courtesy arilourdes.wordpress.com

The scientists are using nanocellulose fibers from bananas, pineapples and other plants to create plastic that is 3-4 times stronger than petroleum-based plastics, and 30% lighter.  Not only that, nanocellulosic plastic is better at resisting heat, chemicals, and water.  The material reportedly rivals Kevlar in strength, but in contrast with that lovely chest-protecting substance, it’s renewable and biodegradable.  The Brazilian researchers believe that within a few years nanocellulosic plastics will enjoy widespread adoption.

To make nanocellulose, the researchers take cellulose, a familiar substance that provides the structure of the cell walls of green plants, and processes it to the point where “50,000 [fibers] fit within the diameter of a human hair” (Squatiglia).  The best source for the fibers has been pineapples, although bananas, coconut shells, agave and curaua, a plant related to pineapple, have also proved workable.  The researchers take the leaves and stems of the plants and heat them in a device similar to a pressure cooker, yielding a fine powder resembling talc. The fibers can be added to other raw materials to produce reinforced plastic, and could even be combined with petroleum-based plastic if a specific application required it, although the product would not biodegrade.

Image courtesy howei.com

The plastic is expensive to produce, but the cost would come down dramatically if the plastic were adopted by automobile manufacturers and other industrial systems.  Right now, one pound of nanocellulose can produce 100 pounds of plastic (Squatiglia).  While I haven’t been able to find out whether the researchers have tried to make nanocellulose with Tulip leaves, I guess this year the joke is on me!


I have filed nanocellulosic plastic under wood and earth.


Squatiglia, Chuck. “Bananas Could Make Cars Leaner, Greener.”  Wired Online.  03/28/11. Accessed 04/20/11. URL.

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