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'Al dente' fibers could make bulletproof vests stronger and 'greener'

Date:
December 9, 2015
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Bulletproof vests and other super-strong materials could soon become even tougher and more environmentally friendly at the same time with the help of extra firm, or 'al dente,' fibers. Researchers report an innovative way to spin high-performance polyethylene fibers from natural fats, such as oils from olives and peanuts.
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That’s not spaghetti — polyethylene fibers made with olive oil could help make super-durable materials even stronger.
Credit: American Chemical Society

Bulletproof vests and other super-strong materials could soon become even tougher and more environmentally friendly at the same time with the help of extra firm, or "al dente," fibers. Researchers report in ACS' journal Macromolecules an innovative way to spin high-performance polyethylene fibers from natural fats, such as oils from olives and peanuts.

These materials, which are powerful enough to stop speeding bullets, can also be used for many other tasks that require strength. They recently played a key role in lifting a sunken ferry from a delicate ecosystem off the coast of Italy. The fibers also can serve as sails to catch wind, ropes for climbing and tying, and thin, sturdy surgical sutures that ensure wound healing. But making fibers for these applications with today's commercial processes has drawbacks. For example, one of the methods requires large amounts of solvents that are flammable and toxic. The research group led by Theo Tervoort and Paul Smith from ETH Zurich wanted to find a more environmentally friendly route to produce these ultra-strong fibers.

The researchers replaced the hazardous solvents with natural, safer alternatives, including extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil and stearic acid, which is a substance found in animal and vegetable fats. Their new approach was up to 250 percent more efficient than current methods. And resulting fibers were up to 2 times stronger than a current commercial version. With a nod to the culinary connection, the researchers dubbed their novel product al dente fibers.


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Journal Reference:

  1. Raphael Schaller, Kirill Feldman, Paul Smith, Theo A. Tervoort. High-Performance Polyethylene Fibers “Al Dente”: Improved Gel-Spinning of Ultrahigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene Using Vegetable Oils. Macromolecules, 2015; DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.5b02211

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American Chemical Society. "'Al dente' fibers could make bulletproof vests stronger and 'greener'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 December 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151209135748.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2015, December 9). 'Al dente' fibers could make bulletproof vests stronger and 'greener'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151209135748.htm
American Chemical Society. "'Al dente' fibers could make bulletproof vests stronger and 'greener'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151209135748.htm (accessed May 24, 2017).

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