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Could wood pulp make cars lighter and more efficient?

Release time : 2018-01-05

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Car parts of the future could be made out of a surprising material. Wood.

Researchers in Japan are working to create a strong material out of wood pulp that could replace steel parts in vehicles within a decade.

Work is also charging ahead in the country to develop plastics that can withstand high temperatures, to replace metal for parts near the engine.

These innovations are part of a wider industry push to make cars lighter.

"There is a rush to try and cut as much weight as possible, especially on cars which will pollute more, like SUVs [sports utility vehicles] or pick-up trucks," says Paolo Martino, principal automotive components analyst at IHS Markit.

Slimmer cars consume less fuel. The US Department of Energy says a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can improve fuel economy by up to 8%.

Manufacturers also want to make electric models as light as possible so they can travel further on a single charge, and help resolve the battery "range anxiety" faced by car owners, Mr Martino says.

And that's where the humble tree could come in. After all, wood has been used to build ships, homes and furniture for millennia.

Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan say a material made from wood pulp could be as strong as steel, but 80% lighter.

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