Could wood pulp make cars lighter and more efficient?

Would you be surprised to find out that researchers in Japan are working to find a way to use wood pulp in place of steel parts in vehicles? This change is expected to happen by year 2030.  

Those changes come along with a push to develop plastics that can endure high temperatures and replace metal for parts near the car's engine. Why make these changes? Well the researchers at Kyoto University say the material, cellulose nanofiber, is five time lighter than steel and can be five times stronger. 

Not only are the new materials deemed to be lighter and stronger but are said to reduce production costs to one-fifth of the current process. 

This won't be the first time wood has had its place in an otherwise steel, aluminum, copper, glass and rubber world. Ships, homes, and furniture have been built with wood pulp for a thousand years. Now that cars are catching up, this causes for a lot of change in the industry. Which, it seems, may not come easily or quickly. 

The lighter the car, the less fuel it consumes. The US Department of Energy says a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can improve fuel economy by up to 8%. 

Lighter cars also calls for cost changes, yet another question would be, could the production time slow down?

Vivek Vaidya, senior vice president at consultancy Frost & Sullivan  says, "It's feasible that "non-performance" parts - anything but the engine, transmission and wheels - could be mass-produced from wood pulp-based materials, but that parts manufacturers might struggle to keep pace with auto production lines."

There are still kinks to be worked out to make this task a reality, but time will tell. 

Find out more about the process at bbc.com and share your thoughts on our social media at Join TAPPI on Facebook, TAPPITWEETS on Twitter, TAPPI Member Group on Linkedin or in your TAPPI Connect community.