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A picture of the new super strong paper. Its strength owes to its small fiber size.  (Source: American Chemical Society)
Up in the sky -- is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's super paper!

Some people can get a little sick of hearing about carbon nanotubes.  Sure, the little structures are strong, and bear a plethora of uses, but they're still expensive, so unfortunately their uses remain in the future.  However, a new, more affordable technology has been developed which revolutionizes an everyday material and will increase its strength to surprising levels.

The new technology, developed by researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, takes ordinary cellulose and puts it through special processing.  The end result is a paper, made out of normal wood pulp that has an incredible tensile strength of 1.6 times that of iron.  The paper sports 214 MPa of tensile strength, easily trumping iron (130 MPa) and heavy duty paper (103 MPa).  Tensile strength helps to measure how resistant a material is to ripping, and how much weight it can support.

The new paper is composed of nano-sized whiskers of cellulose.  Cellulose, the crystalline polymer of glucose, is what makes up cell walls and makes plants so rigid.  On a nanoscale, cellulose fibers beat steel and glass in strength, but paper is composed of larger cellulose strands that are prone to breakage under stress.  Typical commercial paper has a tensile strength of a mere 30 MPa, indicating its weakness.

To make super paper, researchers first had to make the cellulose fibers super small.  Head researcher Lars Berglund used enzymes and mechanical beating to tear the cellulose fibers to a mere 1,000 of their original size.  Then the researchers added carboxymethanol, which coated the fibers in carbonyl groups.  These groups produced hydrogen bonds, further strengthening the material.

The research was published in the current issue of Biomacromolecules.

Mike Wolcott, a materials scientist and cellulose fiber expert at Washington State University in Pullman, labels the paper as "quite interesting".  He notes that the paper has large pores between fibers.  These pores make it dry quicker, saving in production costs and making manufacturing easier.  John Simonsen, a physical chemist and nanocrystalline cellulose expert at Oregon State University in Corvallis, adds that the new material is formed from the most abundant organic material on the planet, so even with the extra treatment it should be cost competitive against more exotic materials like carbon nanotubes.

The new paper may be even used in medical uses such as providing scaffolds for growing replacement tissues or organs.  However its most practical application may be as simple as the shopping bag.

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you know
By v1001 on 6/11/2008 2:49:01 PM , Rating: 5
Thats going to make one hell of a paper cut

RE: you know
By Machinegear on 6/11/2008 3:12:15 PM , Rating: 5
My dog ate my homework...

then died.

RE: you know
By FITCamaro on 6/11/2008 3:47:00 PM , Rating: 5
In other news today, a local man was beaten to death with a sheet of paper.

RE: you know
By cherrycoke on 6/11/2008 4:12:57 PM , Rating: 2
Might be pretty easy to make some body armor out of this stuff. kind of like wearing an old cast iron stove door on your chest, just lighter.

RE: you know
By daInvincibleGama on 6/11/2008 4:22:47 PM , Rating: 2
Tensile Strength is not what you want in body armor. Heavy Duty paper has a strength of 103 MPa and iron has 130 MPa,so these should be roughly the same. I know I would rather be shot in body armor made of iron than paper.

Tensile strengh is what you would measure if u gripped both ends of a sheet of paper and pulled the ends apart. It's pretty hard to break even regular paper this way with your hands.

RE: you know
By ineedaname on 6/11/2008 8:34:45 PM , Rating: 5
Tensile Strength is not what you want in body armor.

Actually tensile strength is what makes Kevlar great for body armor. Kevlar has a tensile strength of about 3000mpa but most of this strength comes from how it is woven. Its actually the ability for the material to not rip which prevents the bullet from piercing and moves the force sideways.

RE: you know
By shockf1 on 6/12/2008 5:51:08 AM , Rating: 2
Actually tensile strength is what makes Kevlar great for body armor. Kevlar has a tensile strength of about 3000mpa

Just what i was about to say ;)

body armor of 200 - 300mpa is next to useless.

RE: you know
By Samus on 6/13/2008 3:25:19 AM , Rating: 2
i've never seen any product advertised as 'armor' rated less than 1000mpa, and those were just crappy house windows that claims to take the impact of a baseball or a foot trying to kick them in. i doubt they'd stop a bullet like they claim to though.

RE: you know
By feraltoad on 6/16/2008 5:25:51 AM , Rating: 2
Sh*t. So that suit I made out of old telephone books is worthless? Oh well, at least the colander helmet is still OK.

RE: you know
By UppityMatt on 6/12/2008 7:40:19 AM , Rating: 4
So what your trying to tell me is that last 4 hours of my life creating a paper mache cast of my chest was for nothing? ahh Man!

RE: you know
By willssi on 6/11/2008 5:21:15 PM , Rating: 4
You would want to know the impact (maybe shear) strength of the paper. Tensile strength for armor isn't very meaningful unless you find yourself on the receiving end of the rack.

RE: you know
By Clauzii on 6/11/2008 9:13:46 PM , Rating: 2
Unless Youre standing with the NYT in the hands ;)

Man, I'd always wanted double armor to be lightweight :)

RE: you know
By batman4u on 6/12/2008 12:45:19 AM , Rating: 2
All Paper Airplanes should not be thrown without the supervision of an adult :D

RE: you know
By adiposity on 6/11/2008 3:57:07 PM , Rating: 2
That was my very first though, actually. Then I started wondering about cutting it, and how easy it would be to even make a paper bag from the stuff. It's not like you can take a huge sheet of it and just cut it to the right dimensions easily, right?

RE: you know
By adiposity on 6/11/2008 3:57:25 PM , Rating: 2
err, thought*

RE: you know
By TennesseeTony on 6/11/2008 4:06:59 PM , Rating: 3
Tensile strength refers to it stretching resistance.

As noted below, the tensile strength has nothing to do with the ability to cut this paper. The article makes no mention of any increased toughness, other than it tensile strength.

I would personally assume though, that it would be a bit more resistant to abrasion and cutting, but not enough to matter, or the article would have mentioned those improved properties as well.

RE: you know
By TennesseeTony on 6/11/2008 4:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
Tensile strength refers to it's stretching resistance.

As noted below, the tensile strength has nothing to do with the ability to cut this paper. The article makes no mention of any increased toughness, other than it's tensile strength.

I would personally assume though, that it would be a bit more resistant to abrasion and cutting, but not enough to matter, or the article would have mentioned those improved properties as well.

RE: you know
By masher2 on 6/11/2008 4:18:59 PM , Rating: 3
True, and cast iron itself is quite weak compared to many steels, which can be have tensile strengths up to six times higher. Cast iron is useful not because of its strength, but because of its castability and its extreme rigidity.

RE: you know
By Keeir on 6/11/08, Rating: 0
RE: you know
By Jimbo1234 on 6/11/2008 9:53:48 PM , Rating: 2
Cast iron has poor ductility. So while its compression strength is high, it's not so good when you try to pull it apart.

RE: you know
By Keeir on 6/11/2008 11:25:54 PM , Rating: 3
And where did I say its tensile strength was high?

Toughness is a measure of work of fracture. Which both cast and wrought iron tend to be better at then most high carbon steels. (note, High Carbon Steel are typically this High Strength steels with 450 MPa+ tensile strengths). Low Carbon and Medium carbon BOTH have better fracture toughness than High Carbon steels and depending the comparison of the materials better than cast iron and wrought iron.

Picking from matweb (A fairly good industrial source for material allowables)

This is Cast Iron Overview

Grey Cast Iron. A common type of cast iron, but no Toughness value. :( (Oh, btw, Grey Cast Iron type of cast iron has a Ultime Tensile Stress of ~250 MPa, which is better than many low carbon steels and significatly better than this paper)

The point I would like to make to people is this: Don't get all excited because in one direction (after all the material is probably highly orthotropic) this paper is fairly strong getting pulled. Depending on a whole host of additional material allowables will determine if this material is actually a good replacement for normal paper. Heck, tensile strength is not even really useful at all. A better one is tensile efficiency, tensile strength divided by density. (BTW, even the values on Matweb for Fracture Toughness are not particularly helpful in design. A better measure for material choice would be relative fracture toughness, fracture toughness divided by tensile strength)

A second point is the idea that High Tensile Strength correlates to High Fracture Toughness which is specifically mentioned in the article. I can think of numerous examples where the exact opposite is true. (7 series Aluminum Alloy Compared to 2 series Aluminum Alloy)

High Fracture Toughness IS slightly related to ducility. But a think a better way to think of this is that ducility indicates certain types of molecular bonds and grain structures. Some of these types of molecular bonds (And grain structures) have postive influence on fracture toughness and some of these don't.

RE: you know
By geddarkstorm on 6/12/2008 1:39:50 PM , Rating: 2
When using this stuff to make a box, tensile strength is going to be important I would think--how easy it is to rip the bottom out of the box due to too much weight pulling the strands apart. So, this new paper should be able to make much better boxes than normal cardboard. I think that's the point of it--what else do you use high strength paper for?

However, since some of its strength comes from hydrogen bonds, getting this stuff wet will probably make it quite weak as water competes for said bonds.

RE: you know
By Keeir on 6/12/2008 2:39:30 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, paper bags tend to have high degrees of "ripping" or crack growth. Usually a failure of an overloaded bag can be traced to a small tear or sharp corner poking into the paper bag. Its rarely a case of pure overload in tension.

Same thing is true for most current carboard boxes. Usually the tape or glue fails in shear before the box does or there is impact damage which degrades the capacity of the box.

Without knowing this materials resistence to impact damage and degree of "ripping" resistence, I don't know whether it would make a stronger box or bag in actual practice. Pure tensile strength is next to worthless.

RE: you know
By Jimbo1234 on 6/12/2008 1:50:52 PM , Rating: 2
You imply it with the use of the word structures. Tensile is what steel is mostly used for in rebar. It is highly desireable as concrete has nearly none. Shear strength is another desireable property such as in civil structures. So unless you define what exact structure you are talking about, and what environment, there is plenty of room for debate.

I'm quite familiar with matweb. However, matweb by itself is not the end all of material properties.

Also on a final note, thin films (such as paper) do not have the same material properties as the bulk material (e.g. test coupons) from which most Matweb values are derived.

RE: you know
By Keeir on 6/12/2008 2:34:10 PM , Rating: 1
Structure implies tension only?

Is a Column not a structure? Bridges (a structure) only have members in tension? Beams are not structure?

In reality, most structures are made of tension, compression, and shear members. ALL three.

Nor is straight material strength, be it in tension, compression, or shear, going to be over-riding consideration for use of a material for a purpose.

Steel rebar in concrete is very effective because concrete shields the steel from corrosion. Pure steel bridges, while being effective from a loads standpoint, do require significant maintaince

And, I am well aware of the differences between thin and thick geometries, yet the results specifically mentions "Tensile Strength".

RE: you know
By lagitup on 6/11/2008 8:06:42 PM , Rating: 3
Thats going to make one hell of a paper cut

So when they said it was Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut ...

RE: you know
By strmbkr on 6/12/2008 10:35:17 AM , Rating: 2
I'm off to make paper swords.

By KeithP on 6/11/2008 3:12:43 PM , Rating: 2
Finally, the age of reusable toilet paper is about to arrive!


RE: Cool
By jplb70 on 6/11/2008 3:43:07 PM , Rating: 2
You mean you're not supposed to reuse toilet paper? Since when?

RE: Cool
By Mystery Meat on 6/11/2008 3:58:48 PM , Rating: 3
If you really want to go green, use both sides of the toilet paper. Saves money, too.

RE: Cool
By FITCamaro on 6/11/2008 4:53:51 PM , Rating: 1

RE: Cool
By AstroCreep on 6/11/2008 5:43:10 PM , Rating: 5
That's not going "Green", that's going "Brown".

RE: Cool
By Choppedliver on 6/11/2008 6:05:18 PM , Rating: 3
Speaking of which, isn't it amazing that no matter what color of food you eat, it comes out brown. I'm not talking about foods saturated with FD&C yellow, green, blue, red, purple, etc...

The amazing human body

RE: Cool
By Noya on 6/11/2008 7:46:50 PM , Rating: 2
it comes out brown

Try eating a side of spinach 3x a day...

RE: Cool
By Nyamekye on 6/11/2008 9:22:59 PM , Rating: 2
Then, for every man, it comes out green.

RE: Cool
By doctor sam adams on 6/16/2008 2:52:25 PM , Rating: 2
it actually does come out green sometimes, the brown color is due to bile from the blood. however in some instances bile is lacking and poop comes out green.

RE: Cool
By BruceLeet on 6/12/2008 1:33:40 AM , Rating: 2
If you really want to be Green or Brown, whatever we're going for here you can rub newspaper together, but it will turn that Brown spot Black.

RE: Cool
By deeznuts on 6/11/2008 7:23:30 PM , Rating: 2
Eh welcome to the third world. Trust me, I've been there ...

RE: Cool
By SilentRunning on 6/11/2008 9:16:01 PM , Rating: 5
No, all we need is three shells and every restaurant will be Taco Bell.

RE: Cool
By Clauzii on 6/12/2008 1:09:51 AM , Rating: 2
And ratburgers :)

By therealnickdanger on 6/11/2008 2:44:09 PM , Rating: 3
I just got my nerd-fix for the day, thanks Jason! So yeah, the super shopping bags are instantly what I thought of. Another thought: how well do these uber-papers biodegrade?

RE: Cool!
By SeanMI on 6/11/2008 3:02:21 PM , Rating: 5
Biodegrade? Who cares? Does this mean I'm not going to be able to shread my junk credit card offers?

RE: Cool!
By fxyefx on 6/11/2008 3:34:35 PM , Rating: 2
There are some advantages of making things like bags out of biodegradable materials... For instance, the ones that end up on the surface and aren't disposed of properly will quickly crumble into dirt instead of getting stuck in the stomachs of sea turtles (as per wikipedia) or choking my stupid cats!

RE: Cool!
By daInvincibleGama on 6/11/2008 4:26:20 PM , Rating: 2
It was a joke, dude.

RE: Cool!
By Polynikes on 6/12/2008 12:18:45 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, those things can be difficult sometimes if they pack enough layers of paper in, or if they have that clear plastic window on 'em. Or worst yet, the fake credit card.

RE: Cool!
By Cygni on 6/11/2008 3:28:45 PM , Rating: 2
Assuming there isnt any nasty chemical coatings on the cellulose fibers, it will be as biodegradable as any plant.

RE: Cool!
By SilthDraeth on 6/11/2008 4:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
Except it explicitly states they coat the fibers in chemical to strengthen them.

RE: Cool!
By mindless1 on 6/11/2008 5:16:23 PM , Rating: 2
Cast Iron is biodegradable too, just not quickly enough.

RE: Cool!
By Darkefire on 6/11/2008 6:29:15 PM , Rating: 2
Rusting is not biodegrading, it's oxidizing. Cast iron doesn't need any help from bacteria for that.

RE: Cool!
By mindless1 on 6/13/2008 4:15:48 AM , Rating: 2
In the consumer sense biodegradable products don't have to use bacteria to break down. Note there are plenty of other products considered biodegradable that don't either.

By mezman on 6/11/2008 2:52:12 PM , Rating: 3
I'll finally be able to put all my canned goods in one bag!

RE: Sweet!
By Spivonious on 6/11/2008 3:06:35 PM , Rating: 3
Cloth bags FTW!


RE: Sweet!
By Baov on 6/11/2008 6:07:12 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe we can make threads out of this and weave them into fabric why not.

Tyvek paper is also darn strong
By kmmatney on 6/11/2008 6:18:48 PM , Rating: 2
There already is some pretty strong (rip resistant) paper out there is use for envelopes (used by USPS for their envelopes). I guess its technically not "paper", but it's hella strong, and can be made from recycled material. It's called Tyvek. You can write and print on it just like paper.

RE: Tyvek paper is also darn strong
By bupkus on 6/11/2008 6:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I was about to ask if this new creation would be stronger than Tyvek. I wonder how long before it's proven to be safe and then available as a product.

RE: Tyvek paper is also darn strong
By noirsoft on 6/12/2008 5:40:00 AM , Rating: 2
I found this data sheet on Tyvek

but the units for tensile strength seem different (N/25.4mm vs MPa) so I don't know how to compare the numbers. Perhaps someone with a chemistry background can do the unit conversion.

By nugundam93 on 6/12/2008 3:43:28 PM , Rating: 2

1 MPa = 1 N/square mm. The link you put in there noirsoft seems a bit odd though with the N/25.4mm, unless it already translates into N/square inch (25.4mm = 1 inch).

tensile strength...
By otispunkmeyer on 6/12/2008 6:49:45 AM , Rating: 2
its not really a test of a materials resistance to ripping

thats more crack propagation once the surface has been initially damaged

tensile strength is just a measure of the force required to make the material yield. the test is typically done simply by pulling opposite ends of the material in opposite directions with a hydraulic jack. and by yield i dont mean break. the yield point is the point where the material becomes plastically deformed. i.e. it will not return to its original state if you remove the load. after this point the tensile strength usually reduces before the the material utimately breaks apart.

paper is strong stuff if you use it correctly. i think in 1st year at uni we were able to hold over 15 house bricks with structures made of a limited supply of just 80gsm inkjet paper.

RE: tensile strength...
By Keeir on 6/12/2008 2:48:29 PM , Rating: 2
tensile strength is just a measure of the force required to make the material yield.

There are typically two measurements for tensile strength. Ultimate and Yield. Usually people are more concerned with the Ultimate Tensile Strength. I guess I would assume this would be Ultimate Tensile Strength. For ductile materials, there are actually three measurements, Yield, Ultimate and Fracture.

after this point the tensile strength usually reduces before the the material utimately breaks apart.

Depends on the measurement method. The total amount of load that a particular peice of material can support may decrease, but the amount of stress required will still increase. Here's a good page explaining true stress and strain with what appears to be a low carbon steel type material curve.

RE: tensile strength...
By fragatero on 6/12/2008 7:57:51 PM , Rating: 2
I readed somewhere, that the longer cellulose molecules are, the stronger the fiber formed by them is. Here is just the opposite, this molecule is shorter than standard cellulose molecule, so that maybe althoug molecule is stronger, fiber is not (I guess, is not an affirmation).

But maybe this stuff would be good as the core of a composite material mixed with a chemical glue.

Electric Model Airplane
By AlvinCool on 6/11/2008 2:53:53 PM , Rating: 2
Of course you can't fly them in wet conditions, but wouldn't this make an awesome wing/body covering for an electronic paper plane?

RE: Electric Model Airplane
By FITCamaro on 6/11/2008 3:48:20 PM , Rating: 2
I'm more concerned with someone throwing a paper airplane made of this stuff at you, and it going through your chest. :)

Small Correction
By Keeir on 6/11/2008 2:56:15 PM , Rating: 2
Although this new material may be very strong against "ripping" (IE having a large size for its critical griffen crack), Tensile strength is not a good measure of a material resistence to crack growth.

Tensile strength is simply the amount of tensile (pulling) load a undamaged peice material can withstand before tearing.

A good example is glass. Undamaged glass has an extremely high tensile strength. But when it recieved damage to it surface, which can occur from small impacts, the actual amount of load it can withstand start to fall dramatically since the crack growth of the material is extremely high.

RE: Small Correction
By StupidMonkey on 6/11/2008 4:52:06 PM , Rating: 2
So wait... you're saying that this new paper grows crack? Revolutionary!

By Cheapshot on 6/11/2008 3:44:17 PM , Rating: 2
postcards will be thinner!

paper castle
By dome1234 on 6/11/2008 6:33:23 PM , Rating: 2
homeless ppl and their 'iron' castles

By sapiens74 on 6/11/2008 6:52:10 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe I will finally win!

Cast Iron?
By deeznuts on 6/11/2008 7:24:21 PM , Rating: 2
yeah but can I use it to sear a steak? make cornbread?

By zat on 6/12/2008 6:11:37 PM , Rating: 2
dude you can make a whole buildng that resists plane crashes though flames would immediately consume the whole thing making it almost worthless to build with
even though it would be nice watching a building soaked with fuel and ppl worthless for the planet smoking inside it
hell of a laugh

Yeah but...
By FaceMaster on 6/11/08, Rating: -1
RE: Yeah but...
By WTFiSJuiCE on 6/11/2008 3:31:56 PM , Rating: 3
i can finally play my table-top vers. of Crysis on highest settings.

My regular paper could never withstand all those darned "nookular" blasts...

RE: Yeah but...
By watkinsaj on 6/11/2008 7:37:48 PM , Rating: 2
Depends if you're quick on the draw

RE: Yeah but...
By lagitup on 6/11/08, Rating: -1
RE: Yeah but...
By FaceMaster on 6/12/2008 8:11:46 AM , Rating: 1
I know! It's madness...

I want to get some of this stuff and watch as my gerbils feebly attempt to make bedding out of it.

RE: Yeah but...
By lealwai on 6/11/2008 8:33:02 PM , Rating: 1
Will it blend?

RE: Yeah but...
By FreeTard on 6/11/2008 8:50:12 PM , Rating: 4
I'm not looking forward to this.

Since its from Sweden, I expect to get a big box full of microscopic parts that I have to assemble myself using tiny tools.

RE: Yeah but...
By FreeTard on 6/11/2008 8:53:44 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not looking forward to this.

Since its from Sweden, I expect to get a big box full of microscopic parts that I have to assemble myself using tiny tools.

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