New wood composite could replace steel in auto manufacturing

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In Japan, researchers at Kyoto University are developing cellulose nanofibers strong enough to be used as auto parts but lightweight enough to improve vehicles’ miles per gallon.

Dubbed the Kyoto Process, the work could yield car parts five times stronger than steel but a fifth of the weight, according to The Drive.

Cellulose nanofibers are already used in a number of commercial products, but the new process kneads chemically treated wood fibers into plastics to create a material strong enough to be used in auto parts.

While the Kyoto nanofibers are cheaper than carbon fiber—another material being eyed for renewable auto parts—they are still too expensive to be commercially viable. Tensile steel and aluminum alloys cost $2/kg, while Kyoto’s materials cost about $9/kg.

Kyoto University professor Hirokai Yano tells The Drive he expects the cost of the Kyoto Process to be halved by 2030, at which point it will start being economically viable for mass production. A prototype car made out of cellulose nanofibers is nonetheless planned for 2020.