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Vol 25, No. 02, February 2021   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
EYE ON CHINA
New Bio-inspired Material Could Replace Conventional Plastics
Team from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) reports a method to manufacture materials with similar structure as nacre from wood-derived fibre and mica, with adaption to mass production, good processability, and tunable coloration.

Petroleum-based plastics have been known to cause environmental challenges, but are still being widely used across various industries. Creating sustainable materials as an alternative would therefore help to reduce its usage and alleviate its harmful environmental impact. An advanced strategy to design and produce high-performance sustainable structural materials is of great need.

The research team was led by Professor Yu Shu-Hong from USTC, the new bio-inspired material looks to replace petroleum-based plastics.

Natural nacre has a hierarchically ordered structure at multiscale levels, allowing it to be both a strong and tough material. Inspired by nacre, the researchers mimicked the ordered structure using the titanium dioxide coated mica micro-platelet and cellulose nanofiber by the proposed directional deforming assembly method.

This method directly presses the hydrogel of titanium dioxide coated mica micro-platelet and cellulose nanofiber, while keeping the size on in-plane directions unchanged. The thickness of the hydrogel is dramatically reduced and materials are directly constructed with the highly ordered brick-and-mortar structure.

At the nanoscale, the titanium dioxide nano-grains on the surface of titanium dioxide coated mica micro-platelet led to efficient energy dissipation by frictional sliding during titanium dioxide coated mica micro-platelet pull-out. The hierarchically ordered structure at multiscale levels contribute to the load redistribution and toughness enhancement.

The resulting material demonstrated excellent strength (approximately 281 MPa) and toughness (approximately 11.5 MPa m1/2), which are more than two times higher than those of high-performance engineering plastics, for example polyamides and aromatic polycarbonate, making it a strong competitor to petroleum-based plastics.

These materials were also shown to adapt to temperature ranging from -130 °C to 250 °C, while normal plastics easily get soft at high temperature. Therefore, such materials are safer and more reliable at high or variable temperatures.

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