Researchers explore vehicle use of cellulose nanofiber-based parts

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

(Tech Xplore)—The US Department of Energy says "Reducing a vehicle's weight by just 10 percent can improve the fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent."

Scientists in Japan are busy working on the role of wood pulp as a potential ingredient in lightening up cars.

Virginia Harrison reported on their work on Friday for BBC News.

"Researchers in Japan are working to create a strong material out of wood pulp that could replace steel parts in vehicles within a decade," she wrote.

The researchers are from Kyoto University, and they are working on a material from wood pulp that could hold up with strength of steel yet lighter. The research team said it could replace steel in auto parts. Prof. Hiroyuki Yano leads the work at the university, said the BBC. He said the material could be used to make door panels, fenders and car bonnets.

Specifically, they are working with "a material made from wood pulp weighs just one fifth of steel and can be five times stronger," said Reuters.

How do they do that? Harrison: "The team chemically treats wood pulp, which consists of millions of cellulose nanofibers (CNFs), and disperses these CNFs into plastic."

(CNFs are used in products, from ink to transparent displays.)

The hybrid material is the result of this CNF blend with plastics.

Naomi Tajitsu and Maki Shiraki in Reuters said the university, along with auto parts suppliers, are developing a prototype car using cellulose nanofiber-based parts. They said the expected completion date is 2020.

An automotive analyst saw the bigger picture.

Paolo Martino, principal automotive components analyst at IHS Markit, said in the BBC article that the rush was on "to try and cut as much weight as possible, especially on cars which will pollute more," like pick-up trucks and SUVs.

As mentioned, "Reducing a vehicle's weight by 10 percent can improve the of the vehicle by 6 to 8 percent." Also, "Magnesium and carbon fiber have the potential to reduce the weight of some vehicle components by 75 percent."

Martino, meanwhile, pointed out manufacturers also seek to lighten their electric models, for an ability to travel further on a single charge.

Tajitsu and Shiraki in Reuters said that "a reduction in car weight will mean fewer batteries will be needed to power the vehicle, saving on costs." They quoted Masanori Matsushiro, a project manager overseeing body design at Toyota Motor Corp. "Lightweighting is a constant issue for us."

Nonetheless, as Reuters also pointed out, their material faces "competition from carbon-based materials, and remains a long way from being commercially viable."

The BBC quoted Vivek Vaidya, at Frost & Sullivan, who said parts manufacturers might struggle to keep pace with auto production lines. "Most components are supplied on-demand, [so] whether a wood or organic material can be made available in a just-in-time way is definitely a question mark."

"Analysts say high-tensile steel and aluminum will be the more popular alternative for many years to come, said Reuters, "considering parts makers would need to overhaul production lines and figure out ways to fasten new like cellulose nanofiber onto other car parts."

Explore further

Carbon fiber from wood is used to build car

© 2017 Tech Xplore

Citation: Researchers explore vehicle use of cellulose nanofiber-based parts (2017, October 1) retrieved 18 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Oct 01, 2017
If it is the cellulose fibers, then lets go back to hemp. Hemp, which is very renewable and probably the superior fiber for this purpose.

Oct 01, 2017
But what about carbon fiber, nanotube?

Oct 01, 2017
price & costs, mass, ease of working with, renewable, ease or recycling..all pluses for hemp and the trees, but notably more for the hemp...and on the negative side for carbon fiber and nanotubes.. environmental nano particle contamination is now being found out as an issue.

Besides, this is about long fiber and carbon nanotubes are generally not long fiber.

Oct 02, 2017
But what about carbon fiber, nanotube?

Hemp for the win!

Oct 02, 2017
Hemp grows up to 75% cellulose
Henry Ford was making fiber car panels in the 30's with flax and hemp, he was also fueling them with seed oil saying in ten years America would be home grown and we did not need foreign oil, but in ten years Hemp was basically illegal with the federal tax stamps and Mack Truck, General Motors, and Firestone had dismantled public transit in 48 cities across the country.

Oct 02, 2017
So they're basically re-inventing the Trabant.


Oct 02, 2017
"But what about carbon fiber, nanotube?
Hemp for the win!"

-That was for capacitors not structural strength.

Oct 03, 2017
That was for capacitors not structural strength.

Why not both?

Oct 04, 2017
"That was for capacitors not structural strength.
Why not both?"

-Wow good catch. Excellent research skills. A rarity here at physorg-

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more