Coming soon: helmets made from carrots
Coming soon: helmets made from carrots (EMPA/Thinkstock)
Coming soon: helmets made from carrots
Lexile: 1000L
Lexile

Assign to Google Classroom

David Hepworth and Eric Whale, two Scottish material scientists, were looking for smart ways to reuse food waste when they figured out how to make nanofibers out of carrot pulp, 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, after 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, a company 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 - they're looking at sugar beets next - to work. They found that the smartest, most ecologically responsible use for the nanofibers, including Curran, was for protective sporting goods. And in particular, motorcycle helmets, which 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.

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/coming-soon-helmets-made-carrots/

Filed Under:  
Assigned 87 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
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


COMMENTS (46)
  • mattv-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:19 p.m.

    The cellulose root is much easier to separate out from the rest of the unneeded materials, or biowaste.

  • kyleighp-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:19 p.m.

    Cellulose has the advantage of being thinner and easier to separate then cotton or wood as well as being sturdier. This lightness and strength attributes to it being a better choice then carbon fiber for making protective clothing because it's cheaper,and so much lighter and durable.

  • mattv-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:20 p.m.

    (2ND PART) Cellulose in root vegetables is better than carbon fibers because it is nearly twice as strong.

  • kolbyd-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:21 p.m.

    the advantage that carrots have over wood or cotton is that the carrot cellulose is easier to take apart. It is a better choice then carbon fiber because carbon fiber is not renewable.

  • garretta-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:22 p.m.

    Cellulose has an advantage over wood/cotton because it is easy to separate from bio-waste. You extract it from the pulp.

    Cellulose in root vegetables is a better choice than carbon fiber because Carbon-Fiber is a non-renewable resource. Which in the passage it states: "We have sooner or later, to see how we get these materials."

  • donovanl-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:22 p.m.

    Cellulose has an advantage over wood or cotton because it is easy to separate out from the rest of the biowaste. Cellulose is a better choice than carbon fiber because it is twice as strong and lighter.

  • mimir-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:23 p.m.

    Cellulose is said to be strong and light, this better than using wood because it's light, and better than cotton because its strong. Cellulose is better than carbon fiber for protective clothing because it's a renewable resource unlike carbon.

  • hollyk-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    A better advantage the cellulose in root vegetables have that wood or cotton doesn't have is its easy to separate from its bio-waste.Cellulose in root vegetables is a better choice than carbon fiber for making protective clothing is its a more solid material than carbon fiber and its most like going to last longer.

  • callans-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    The advantage cellulose in root vegetables has over wood and cotton is that it can easily be removed from the plant easier than wood or cotton. Cellulose in root vegetables is a better choice than carbon fiber for protective clothing is because it is almost twice as strong, and is better for the environment.

  • travisb-fel
    10/14/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    Cellulose is better than wood, cotton, and carbon fiber because it is renewable, lighter, stronger, cheaper, and all around just safer.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT