The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a podcast and transcript of an interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University College of Agricultural Sciences, São Paulo, Brazil. (I last mentiioned Leão in my March 28, 2011 posting where I profiled his and his colleagues’ work on using nanocellulose fibres in automotive plastics as a greener alternative to the plastics currently used.) You might prefer to listen to the podcast (made available through the ACS’s Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions project) or you can read the transcript,
Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions
Promoting Public Health: “Green” cars made from pineapples and bananas
Combating disease . . . promoting public health … providing clean water and safe food . . . developing new sources of energy . . . confronting climate change. Hello, from the American Chemical Society — the ACS. Our more than 163,000 members make up the world’s largest scientific society. This is “Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions: New Solutions 2011.” Global Challenges 2011 updates the ACS’ award-winning podcast series. In 2011, we are focusing on the four themes of the International Year of Chemistry: Health, energy, environment and materials. Today’s solution addressed the desirability of developing more “green” cars.
With manufacturers building hybrids that have excellent gas mileage, the next step appears to be new vehicles that are created through the fruits of workers’ labors, literally –– cars made, in part, out of bananas or pineapples. Their study, explaining how they can create stronger, lighter, and more sustainable materials for cars and other products, was presented this spring at the ACS 241st National Meeting & Exposition in Anaheim.Here’s study lead author Alcides Leão, Ph.D., with São Paulo State University College of Agricultural Sciences São Paulo, Brazil.
“The properties of these plastics are incredible. They are light, but very strong — 30 per cent lighter and 3-to-4 times stronger than the materials used today. We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibers in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy. They also will help us make more sturdy vehicles.”
Besides cutting down on weight and improving gas mileage, nano-cellulose reinforced plastics have mechanical advantages over conventional automotive plastics. These new plastics can reduce damage from heat and spilled gasoline [emphasis mine], for example.
“These new polymers can replace certain plastics used today or can be used to reinforce materials and this is a real advantage because the fruit plastics are biodegradable. Any source of cellulose-related material could be used. In fact, sludge from pulp and paper cellulose plants could be used. This sludge pulp accounts for a huge amount of waste in Brazil and other countries. How could you use fruit to build sturdier cars, some people have asked? The fact is that the nano-cellulose fibers that go into the plastics are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable. We now have a partnership with a Malaysian company to use these fibers to develop a bullet-proof vest.”
The process, though expensive, has a major advantage which offsets the cost, and the approach looks promising for manufacturing other products in the future. Increasing production certainly will reduce the cost.“To prepare the nano-fibers, we inserted the leaves and stems of pineapples or other plants into a device similar to a pressure cooker. We then added certain chemicals to the plants and heated the mixture over several cycles, producing a fine material that resembles talcum powder. The process is costly, but it takes just one pound of nano-cellulose to produce 100 pounds of super-strong, lightweight plastic. So far, we’re focusing on replacing automotive plastics. But in the future, we may be able to replace steel and aluminum automotive parts using these plant-based nanocellulose materials. In addition, the new plastic could be used to build airplanes.”
Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking
Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges.Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.
I applaud the interest in providing solutions to our global challenges but let’s not forget that some of these challenges were created as a consequence of a failure to anticipate negative outcomes from previous chemical solutions to challenges.
On a personal note, I’m intrigued to see that these new plastics could reduce damage from heat and spilled gasoline in light of last night’s events in Vancouver where after losing the Stanley Cup, some Canuck fans overturned and burned a few vehicles as well as smashing window storefronts and looting stores. Here’s a bit of a commentary from Elaine Lui (Lainey’s Gossip) on last night’s events and what’s happening today (Note: her language is a bit saltier than mine so I’ve compromised by replacing vowels with asterisks),
There’s nothing like running to your car to make sure it’s not vandalised. The crowd was already pretty angry when we went past. And we were early. We darted across the street to avoid a fight, were fortunate to find the car unharmed, and got out of there quickly, safely home to our dogs. Others, as you’ve probably seen, were not so lucky.
It sucks that the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup. But it sucks even more that this is the image you have of Vancouver today. They keep saying that a small group of d*ckh**ds deliberately destroyed the city and that their efforts should not represent who and what we are. But what about all those people just standing there, not leaving, so that they could photo bomb a fight, and post that sh*t on Facebook?
While you shake your head at the idiocy that went down last night, I wonder if you could take a moment to consider that there is profound heartbreak today for the people who love Vancouver to see, to know, that these *ssh*l*s, who are not true fans, have p*ss*d on the face of our awesome town.
The people of our awesome town are already trying to restore it. Thousands of Vancouver residents have already volunteered to assist with clean up efforts. Click here for more information and follow @vancouverclean for updates on how and where you can help.
Lui is a gossip columnist who generally concentrates on movie, television, and fashion industry gossip with an occasional foray into film and literary criticism.
ETA: I should credit Cameron Chai’s June 16, 2011 news item at Azonano for providing me with the information about the ACS podcast.