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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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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".


"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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