Bioengineer Birgitte Ahring and her research team at Washington State University have come up with a better use for wasted lignin, a carbon-based biological polymer found in plants that gives strength and rigidity to plant cell walls and helps prevent rot.
The research team experimented with adding lignin to carbon fiber and found that when mixed in the right ratios, a modified version of carbon fiber reinforced plastic is cheaper than and just as strong as the regular stuff.
Forbes has more details:
The Flintstones aside, wood is not the first choice for car parts. But when blended into carbon fiber, it turns out that a wood byproduct could lower the cost of the high-tech material without sacrificing its strength.
Carbon fiber reinforced plastic is very light and very strong. The fibers are short chains of carbon atoms bundled together and twisted into long strands. Those can be woven together and locked inside an epoxy resin to make stiff, lightweight parts for jets, prosthetics, cars and more.
As with so many human inventions, plants beat us to it long ago. They evolved their own light and strong reinforcement for building structures: lignin. It's a carbon-based biological polymer that gives strength and rigidity to plant cell walls and helps prevent rot. It typically makes up about between one-fifth and one-third of the dry mass of wood.