Wonder Weave: Natural Fiber is Stronger than Steel
Nanocellulose, a material derived from tree fiber and some grain stalks, could now potentially be sourced from blue-green algae in sufficient quantities to cost-efficiently create ultra-thin media displays, lightweight body armor, a one-pound boat that carries up to 1,000 pounds of cargo, and a wide range of other products. R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., Ph.D., a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, presented his team’s findings at an American Chemical Society conference as a major step toward “one of the most important discoveries in plant biology.”
Brown’s method uses genes from the family of bacteria that produces vinegar and secretes nanocellulose. The genetically altered algae, known as cyanobacteria, are entirely self-sustaining. They produce their own food from sunlight and water and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, offering a natural way to reduce this major greenhouse gas.
Brown says bacterial nanocellulose can be used to create ballistic glass, aerospace materials or even wound dressings, because it retains its stiffness and strength even when submerged in liquid. Its most obvious application would be in paper, cardboard and display industries.