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Tough, sturdy, and heat resistant: using bio-inspired materials instead of plastic

Modern life relies heavily on plastics, even though its petroleum-based production poses serious environmental challenges. Due to its limited mechanical properties or complex manufacturing processes, the industry currently lacks sustainable alternatives. Therefore, advanced strategies for designing and producing high-performance sustainable structural materials are highly needed.
 
It is this new bio-inspired material that can now replace petroleum-based plastics. A group led by a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) reported a method that can use wood-derived fibers and mica to make a material similar to the nacre structure, which is suitable for large-scale production and has good processability. And adjustable coloring.



 
 
Natural mother-of-pearl has a multi-scale hierarchical structure like bricks and mortar, making it both strong and tough. Inspired by the nacre, the researchers used TiO2 coated mica microchips (TiO 2-mica) and cellulose nanofibers (CNF) to mimic the ordered brick and tile structure through the proposed directional deformation assembly method.
 
This method directly compresses the hydrogel of TiO2-mica and CNF while keeping the dimension in the plane direction unchanged. The thickness of the hydrogel is significantly reduced, and the material is directly constructed with a highly ordered solid structure.
 
At the nanometer level, the TiO2 nanocrystal grains on the surface of the TiO2-mica cause effective energy dissipation through frictional sliding during the TiO2-mica pull-out process. All hierarchical structures on multi-scale levels contribute to load redistribution and increase resilience.
 
The obtained material has excellent strength (~281 MPa) and toughness (~11.5 MPa m1/2), which is more than 2 times that of high-performance engineering plastics (such as polyamide, aromatic polycarbonate), making it strong petroleum-based Plastic competitors.
 
Even better, these materials are adapted to the temperature range of -130°C to 250°C, while ordinary plastics tend to soften at high temperatures. Therefore, this material is safer and more reliable at high or variable temperatures.

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