Automotive

Japan proposes wooden cars made of plant-based cellulose nanofibers

One-fifth the weight of steel but five times the strength, plant-based cellulose nanofiber (CNF) offers carmakers the opportunity to build strong, lightweight cars while sustainably removing as much as 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) of carbon from the car's life cycle.

We've written before about the extraordinary properties of CNFs, which were last year demonstrated to be stronger than spider silk. Made essentially from wood, but chipped, pulped and boiled in chemicals to remove lignin and hemicellulose, it's a highly condensed, lightweight and incredibly strong material that's also very recyclable.

It can also, as it turns out, be used in manufacturing, where it can be injection molded as a resin-reinforced slurry to form complex shapes – and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment sees it as a potential way for automakers to reduce weight and sustainably reduce their carbon footprint.

The injection-moldable CNF material is used extensively in the interior
Kankyosho

A project undertaken in conjunction with Kyoto University has built this rather angular, gull-winged supercar design using a lot of CNF in the bodywork and interior. Called the Nanocellulose Vehicle, or NCV, it's said to reduce weight by around 10 percent compared to a car built from standard materials, and in doing so, it saves about one person's worth of household carbon emissions for a year.

The team is performing repeated tests on the car parts they've built, making sure they'll last over the long term and meet materials specifications for the desired parts. So far, the team says results have been very promising, and a number of automakers including divisions of Toyota, are investigating CNFs to determine whether production can be made cheap enough to include in mass production vehicles.

Check out a video on YouTube.

Source: Japanese Ministry of the Environment via Jalopnik.

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11 comments
Quercus
Didn't Henry Ford build cars out of hemp at one stage? Then, for somewhat obscure reasons, they banned the growing of hemp and knocked that idea on the head..... Until now, presumably.
buzzclick
>saves about one person's worth of household carbon emissions for a year...this for me is an abstract concept. Which person? Some people are energy hogs and most aren't. A savings of 10% in weight? What good is that if the car is needlessly large and powerful? As I understand it, the CNF process is like a cellulose-based fiberglass. One can imagine the same weight savings using aluminum. It's a marketing gimmick. It's like people building LEEDS eco-friendly homes that are way bigger than they need to be. It's just six, and one half dozen of the other.
guzmanchinky
Well I just learned something new. That's incredible! I wonder how cost effective it is compared to carbon fiber?
Richard Unger
Lotus have been doing this with Hemp for years
PeterFonseca
I'm impressed by the reported superiority of this plant-based material over steel but not convinced they'll be able to produce a viable car eventually. The bottom line for carmakers is how much mark-up can they charge after all cost components are factored in. If it's too expensive than the market just won't be there.
Worzel
It's probably more to do with reducing manufacturing costs than anything else. As for carbon, just remove CO2 from the atmosphere completely, then there will be no further problems, because ALL carbon based life will be dead, including humans, and the planet will be a just another lifeless blob in the universe.
Fritz
Great. Continuing what was started with the DDR Trabi ;-)
michael_dowling
What worries me is how crash worthy is CNF? Steel is designed to crumple in a predictable manner,which is vital for absorbing crash forces. If the space frame is steel,at least it will crumple predictably,with the CNF body panels coming loose in intact sheets. I suppose it has similar properties to fibreglass. Quercus: Yes,Ford did make body panels from a hemp composite material. You can google it on YouTube. They show some dude hitting a composite car body with a sledge hammer without damage! guzmanchinky : Carbon fibre in large quantities is very expensive last time I checked. Pure wood fibre should be much,much cheaper.
neoneuron
Regarding the almost, same thing.. In the early 1900's, a trunk lid part that Henry Ford made out of hemp and resin. It was tested by 4 people with sledge hammers. They could not break it. I have no idea if that was recycle-able or not.. It used to be on youtube, but sadly, was removed.
HaroldBalsac
Normally, I'd be all over buying a car made of this material. The problem is, there are a lot of woodpeckers in our area.