Researchers develop new super strong fibers made from natural fats.
When someone says the words “al dente,” what typically comes to mind is pasta. It refers to food (pasta or otherwise) that is cooked so as to remain firm to the bite.
Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) reported in the American Chemical Society (ACS)’s journal Macromolecules that they have found a way to make high-performance polyethylene fibers from natural fats, such as those found in olives and peanuts. As a play on words and as a reference to the culinary ingredients, they called them “Al Dente” fibers.
There are endless uses for these super strong (powerful enough to stop a speeding bullet) types of fibers. They can be used in bulletproof vests, sails, rock climbing ropes, surgical sutures or even, as was the case recently, lifting a sunken ferry off the coast of Italy.
However, the process of making these types of materials isn’t always ideal; it requires large amounts of flammable and toxic solvents.
“Despite this seemingly unattractive and uneconomical process, nonetheless, ultrahigh modulus and strength UHMW PE [Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene] fibers have been successfully developed on a significant commercial scale,” says the published paper. What led the group of researchers to their findings was their desire to produce more environmentally friendly, ultra-strong fibers.
Led by Theo Tervoort and Paul Smith, the team replaced the hazardous solvents with extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil and stearic acid — a substance found in animal and vegetable fats — all of which are natural and safer alternatives. Not only were they successful, their new methods were two and a half times more efficient than present ones and created fibers that are twice as strong as current commercial versions.
Strong enough to stop two speeding bullets? If nothing else, it will keep officers and soldiers safer — something everyone can benefit from.
Based on materials provided by the ACS.