We’re not talking about soapbox derby cars either. Researchers from Kyoto University have developed a new compound that could make wooden cars a thing of the future.
The material, derived from wood pulp, is known as Cellulose Nanofibres. Cellulose Nanofibres are made by breaking down the aforementioned wood pulp into fragments that are nanoscopically small, meaning they’re several hundreths of a micron across. Wonderfully, it’s a technique known as ‘The Kyoto Process’, which sounds more like a political thriller novel than it does a method of making bodywork for cars.
Once these nanofibres are woven together and combined with specialised resins and rubbers, they form an incredibly strong, incredibly lightweight material. Think up to 5x lighter than steel, and almost 5x stronger. The method was inspired by the famous plane ‘The Spruce Goose’, which was also constructed of wood.
In fact, it’s so good that many Japanese car manufacturers are looking into it as an alternative to costly composites such as carbon fibre. Cellulose nanofibre currently costs about $9 per kg to produce, a figure that’s already cheaper than carbon fibre ($10/kg), but Kyoto University is hoping that this figure could come down to around $5/kg by 2030.
Despite the current cost, great interest has already been generated in the material has already been shown from Japanese Auto Industry. As well as forming a cheaper alternative to materials like carbon fibre for performance cars, the invention could prove invaluable for electric car makers as they seek to make lighter, more efficient cars.
In fact, Kyoto University is already working with manufacturers on a wood-based prototype that they’re hoping to have ready by 2020. Toyota have also jumped on the train, unveiling the wood-constructed Setsuna electric concept car.
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