Brazilian Scientists to the World: Get Ready for the Pineapple and Banana Cars of the Future

It looks like the cars of the future won't be hovercrafts or flying spaceships. Neither will they be automobiles that can transform or vehicles that can run on different types of terrain. At least, not yet, that is.

The automobile industry is constantly transforming and trying to build more efficient and greener cars. Because of these efforts, we've seen the age of the electric cars and we have seen prototypes of cars that run on water as well as vehicles that are powered by solar energy. Now these are all great, but there's another solution brewing around that will not only use eco-friendly materials during its manufacture but will also result in the production of a stronger, lighter car that will do wonders for fuel economy. Is the world ready for pineapple and banana cars to hit the road?

Ready or not, scientists in Brazil are making all these possible, having developed a more effective means of utilizing fibers from pineapples and bananas to produce automotive plastics that are stronger and lighter than the current ones being used today.

The study is headed by Dr. Alcides Leão, who presented the findings of his research group during the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Dr. Leão explained that while the fibers used to reinforce the new breed of plastics will be coming from fruits such as bananas and pineapples, the resulting plastic produced will be extremely strong and stiff, with the strengh of these nano-cellulose fibers coming close to that which is exhibited by Kevlar. Kevlar is the renowned synthetic fiber that is commonly used for bulletproof vests, tires, ropes, brakes, and fibers of the material are also often used to reinforce composite materials. However, unlike these synthetic traditional plastics, the nano-cellulose fibers are completely green and renewable.

"The properties of these plastics are incredible," Dr. Leão explained, "They are light, but very strong; 30 percent lighter and 3 to 4 times stronger." He further goes on to elaborate that a lot of car parts, such as dashboards, bumpers, and side panels can also be made using nano-sized fruti fibers in the future. "For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars and that will improve fuel economy."

These green plastics also have marked mechanical advantages over their conventional counterparts. According to Dr. Leão, nano-cellulose reinforced plastics have greater resistance to damange from heat, spilled gasoline, water, and oxygen.

The most promising source of nano-cellulose are the stems and leaves of pineapples. Dr. Leão adds that other fibers from fruits can also be good sources, such as bananas, coir fibers obtained from coconut shells, sisal fibers from the agave plant, and fique, which is a plant closely related to the pineapple. The scientists prepare the nano-fibers by inserting the leaves and stems from these plants into a pressure-cooker-like device. Chemicals are added and the mixture is heated over several cycles until a fine material resemlbling talc is produced. The scientists explained that while the process is costly, it only takes just a pound of nano-cellulose to produce a hundred pounds of extremely strong and lightweight plastic.

According to Dr. Leão, automobile manufacturers have already begun testing nano-cellulose reinforced plastics with promising results. He predicted that this technology will be used within a matter of two years. The plastics also show great promise for medical applications such as in the production of artificial ligaments and heart valves.

The study was funded by the government of Brazil, Pematec, Toto Industria and Comercio Ltd., as well as by other private companies.

Source: American Chemical Society