'Fruit fibres may help build cars'

Brazilian scientists have used fibres from pineapples and bananas to create a new super-strong plastic for building cars.

Ultra-thin "nano" fibres present in the delicate fruits were used by the researchers to reinforce plastic and make it lighter and stronger.

According to Dr Alcides Leao from Sao Paulo State University, the new material is up to 30% lighter and three to four times stronger than regular plastic.

Presenting the findings at the 241st meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California, he said: "We believe that a lot of car parts, including dashboards, bumpers, side panels, will be made of nano-sized fruit fibres in the future. For one thing, they will help reduce the weight of cars, and that will improve fuel economy."

Other advantages of the material over regular plastics include greater resistance to heat and to spilled petrol, water and oxygen.

With car manufacturers already testing the fibre-reinforced plastics, the research team believes they could be commercially available in the next two years.

Although the plant-based material is currently designed to replace automotive plastics, Dr Leao believes it could eventually be used in place of steel and aluminium parts.

Some of the most promising nano-cellulose sources the team is working with are pineapple leaves and stems, and curaua, a plant related to the pineapple that is cultivated in South America. Other good sources of fibre were bananas, coir fibres found in coconut shells, sisal fibres from the agave plant, and fique, another plant related to pineapples.

Although the process is costly, it takes just one pound of nano-cellulose to produce 100 pounds of super-strong, lightweight plastic, said the scientists.

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