Until the 1920s, cars were framed using wood. Today, as automakers strive to curb emissions by improving engines, streamlining design and reducing vehicle weight, one high-tech solution – ironically – could be wood; but this time, it is being used on a nanoscale.
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Cellulose nanofiber (CNF) is extracted from wood via chemical and mechanical processing, offering high strength and rigidity at one-fifth the weight of steel. In Japan, a team of 22 industry, government and academic institutions, led by Kyoto University, developed a vehicle featuring components made of wood-derived CNF.
The Nano Cellulose Vehicle (NCV) debuted at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. Commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, the project aimed to reduce vehicle weight 10 percent by replacing standard steel or aluminum parts with CNF. Thanks to strong government and industry funding, Japan has the world’s largest CNF industry, and the material is being used in a variety of products. With the country’s reputation as a leader in the automotive industry, it seems likely that this prototype is a glimpse at the future of cars.