Machine Design

Supertough nanofibers from cellulose

Ordinary cellulose may serve as the raw material for a new, low-cost, high-strength fiber, according to polymer scientists at Cornell University. "Cellulose is the most abundant renewable resource polymer on earth," says Margaret Frey, an assistant professor of textiles and apparel at Cornell.

"Although researchers have predicted that fibers with strength approaching Kevlar could be made from this fiber, no one has achieved this." Cornell researchers think they have a shot at making such material thanks to a technique they've devised known as electrospinning.

It involves dissolving cellulose in a special solvent, then squeezing the liquid polymer solution through a tiny pinhole under high voltage. The electrical charge pulls the polymer solution through the air into a tiny fiber, which collects on a surface held at electrical ground. The resulting fiber is less than 100 nm in diameter, 1,000 times smaller than conventional spinning, says Frey. Also, she says that producing a high-performance material from reclaimed cellulose will increase motivation to recycle these materials at all phases of textile production and remove them from the waste stream. Possible applications may include air filtration, protective clothing, agricultural nanotechnology, and biodegradable nanocomposites.

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