A spoonful of sugar… makes your car lighter?
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
Carbon-fiber. It’s a defining feature of elite planes, racing cars, and even sports equipment. This ultra-light material means cars need less fuel and you can swing that racket faster. But carbon-fiber’s main ingredient comes from fossil fuel. Can’t we find a greener solution?
Enter Gregg Beckham and his team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. They made carbon fiber ingredients using only sugar and some bacteria.
Where do they get the sugar, you ask? Plants of course! Beckham used inedible plant bits. Like corn stalks and wheat straw. They broke these materials down into basic sugars and added a little acid.
They then created some genetically engineered bacteria and had them gorge on the sugar. That released lots of alcohol! Not the kind we can drink. But a kind that can be cheaply used to form the main ingredient of carbon-fiber!
Best of all, their method avoids toxic by-products and a large price tag. Giving us a cheaper and safer way to make faster, more fuel-efficient cars.
Who ever said sugar wasn’t good for us?
Reference: Karp, E. M., Eaton, T. R., Sànchez i Nogué, V., Vorotnikov, V., Biddy, M. J., Tan, E. C. D., Brandner, D. G., Cywar, R. M., Liu, R., Manker, L. P., Michener, W. E., Gilhespy, M., Skoufa, Z., Watson, M. J., Fruchey, O. S., Vardon, D. R., Gill, R. T., Bratis, A. D., & Beckham, G. T. (2017). Renewable acrylonitrile production. Science, 358(6368), 1307–1310. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aan1059