Coming soon: helmets made from carrots
Coming soon: helmets made from carrots (EMPA/Thinkstock)
Coming soon: helmets made from carrots
Lexile: 910L

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David Hepworth and Eric Whale are two Scottish material scientists. They were looking for smart ways to reuse food waste when they figured out how to make nanofibers out of carrot pulp. It is the leftovers from carrot juice. The cellulose in carrots and other root vegetables, unlike other fibrous materials like wood or cotton, is easy to separate out from the rest of the biowaste. They extract it from the pulp.
The scientists call the material Curran. The name comes from the Gaelic word for carrot. And they set out to show that it could be used as an alternative to glass or carbon fibers. They say it's nearly twice as strong and slightly lighter than carbon. In 2007, Hepworth and Whale founded CelluComp. The company plans to develop Curran and other plant-based materials.
Christian Kemp-Griffin is the CEO of CelluComp. He says they started with carrots because they were cheap and easy to get. They would just go buy out their local grocery store. But they soon realized that the carrot pulp actually worked well and that they could tap into agricultural waste to source their material.
First, the scientists made a fishing rod out of Curran. They figured a rod had to be light, flexible and strong, characteristics that Curran could best bring. Called the E21 Carrot Stix, it won some awards and sold well.
Then, with grant money from the European Union to test the material, CelluComp hired researchers at EMPA. That is the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. It was asked to identify the best ways to put nanofibers sourced from plants to work.  They're looking at sugar beets next. They found that the smartest, most ecologically responsible use for the nanofibers, including Curran, was for protective sporting goods. And in particular, motorcycle helmets. Those have to be both strong and light.
That's right: Motorcycle helmets of the future might be made from carrots, not carbon.
"Nanocellulose has material properties that would allow it to replace either glass or carbon in today's plastic fiber," says Roland Hischier. He is a researcher at EMPA who specializes in analyzing the life cycle of products. "Carbon fiber is a non-renewable resource. We have, sooner or later, to see how we get these materials."
The most interesting thing about Curran, Hischier says, is how it uses food waste. The waste is becoming a bigger problem in Europe, as commuting and fast food are more prominent. He and the rest of the team at EMPA assessed the environmental footprint and commercial viability of Curran. The study was part of an FP7 program. It funds sustainability-related projects across the EU.
"The European community, in the last 5 to 6 years, has started to put some accent on the issues of sustainability," Hischier says.
To test whether something like Curran is actually viable, EMPA developed a three-step process. First, is there actually a need for this material? Will it be replicable and consistent outside of the lab? And, lastly, is it actually an improvement, environmentally speaking, from current materials? This is a baseline. And EMPA is working to come up with a framework for how any new renewable material will be assessed.
"The question here, first of all, was to see what could be a potential market for such a new fiber, from an ecological point but also from the economic and technical angles too," Hischier says.
That's where the helmet comes in. In their analysis, EMPA found that protective sporting goods, which need stiff, strong, light fibers and low economic overhead, were some of the best use cases for Curran. Hischier and his team are also looking at the viability of using it in surfboards and insulation for mobile homes.
The challenge now is taking the material from the lab to production. And, making sure that it's still ecologically smart on a grander scale.
It doesn't make sense to develop a material from biowaste if there's no use for it. Or if turning it into a useable product takes more energy than the non-renewable alternative.

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What advantage does the cellulose in root vegetables have over wood or cotton? Why is the cellulose in root vegetables a better choice than carbon fiber for making protective clothing?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • alexf-coo
    9/29/2015 - 10:31 a.m.

    It's durable and light compared to what helmets we have today. The cellulose is very easy to separate from biomass. Who knew a vegetable would be a helmet material? ????

  • taylornelson-bak
    9/29/2015 - 04:36 p.m.

    I can't wait to see them!????????

  • holdeno-3-bar
    9/29/2015 - 06:37 p.m.

    The cellulose in root vegetables is better than wood and cotton because it is easier to extract from the fruit. When extracting carrot fiber, people just have to make carrot juice. The fiber then can be taken immediately out of the leftovers.
    Carrot fiber is also better than carbon for making protective clothing because it is stronger and lighter. When asked what qualities protective clothing has to possess, scientists responded that it has to be strong and light. Carrot fiber has been reported as both twice as strong and lighter than carbon fiber. Therefore, carrot fiber is better for making protective clothing than carbon.
    I was nicely surprised by this article because scientists are being very innovative to turn to carrots for purposes besides food.

  • erino-6-bar
    9/29/2015 - 06:42 p.m.

    The cellulose in root vegetables is a better material than carbon fiber to use for making protective clothing because it is lighter and nearly twice as strong. In addition, carbon fiber is a non-renewable resource while in many parts of the world food is going to waste. If that waste was used to make protective clothing instead of carbon fibers it would help the environment and be more efficient.

    I found this article fascinating along with the fact that instead of using a valuable, non-renewable resource to make helmets, we could use carrots or other root vegetables. I think that if helmets and such are made out of roots vegetables it could really help to preserve non-renewable resources.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    9/29/2015 - 07:24 p.m.

    The major advantage of the cellulose in root vegetables over cotton or wood is that the cellulose in root vegetables is easier to separate from bio waste than that of cotton or wood. Root vegetable cellulose is better for making protective clothing because it is stiff, strong, light, and affordable. Such aspects of Curran make it a better choice than other fibers such as that of carbon.

    The report provided important details about the new fiber, Curran. It explained how the material could be used, who was developing it, and the possible advantages over existing materials. The article was very interesting.

  • maxx-ver
    9/29/2015 - 08:35 p.m.

    When I first read the tittle I thought that it would be made out of actual carrot not the cellulose

  • brandonm-2-bar
    9/29/2015 - 08:41 p.m.

    The cellulose in root vegetables is better then the cellulose in wood and cotton because it is easy to separate from the biowaste in pulp. The cellulose in root vegetables are a better choice than carbon fiber for protective clothing because it is a renewable resource, and because it's twice as strong and lighter then carbon. I really like the idea of using plant waste as a material to use for everyday life. I feel that people need to start finding new renewable materials that can replace the nonrenewable resources. An example being cars that run on electricity, not gas. A "carrot helmet" is a step in the right direction.

  • naders-win
    9/29/2015 - 11:02 p.m.

    advantages about this is that less food wastes and the material is light and safer.

  • shawnm-win
    9/29/2015 - 11:51 p.m.

    You imagine createtivity about using carrots in helmets, well done

  • galilenc-
    9/30/2015 - 01:12 p.m.

    it's lighter and renewable material and it helps because it helps with food waste and cotton

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