Simple Materials

I’m fascinated how some people still nowadays build a vehicle out of wood, strap a small engine onto it and dash through skies at 200 km/h speeds. Very few tools are needed for wood working, although a lot of time has to be spent. There are some modern materials, like glues (usually epoxies) used in the homebuilt wooden planes. And the landing gear at least is usually metal, though not always.

Could these very simple and elegant materials be improved somehow? Yes, there are multiple ways to do that.

The old fashioned way is of course making plywood. The unevenness is evened out, the weak spots in the thin sheets rarely hit the same places. Almost 0.1 mm thick plies can be used.

Also, for example, you can chop the wood into tiny particles and glue it back together, or melt the lignin and the wood becomes molten plastic-like. There is Flaxwood that is used to make guitars of very even quality, or the Fraunhofer Institute  Arboform.

Some Swedish scientists at KTH have managed to coax very small and thin cellulose flakes into combining on a water surface, making very strong sheets. This is basically a nanomaterial. They also have nanofoam projects.

There are lots of other biomaterials as well. For example corn starch made plastic. Biodegradable waste from throwaway pints for example is quite easy to dispose of (many simple oil based plastics like polyethylene can be burned though which is easy too). It is conceivable that the littering problem (which is just as much a social one by roots) that comes with plastic packaging could be reduced a lot with materials that degrade much faster in nature.

Glass fiber is one problematic somewhat modern material. One is concerned what happens with it at the end of life? I don’t think it is recyclable. The glass has a low value and the separation is practically very hard. Can it be burned? Will it increasingly give splinters when it is ageing? These are all important questions if there are industrial projects like vast deployment of wind power in the plans.

Could many uses of plastics and composites like glass fiber actually be replaced by simpler to make , more friendly and simpler to dispose of biomaterials? (Though that depends on very many things, many biomaterials have worse environmental impacts than synthetic ones.)

I find that actually as quite likely.

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