Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Scientists have combined graphene and jute to form a new composite material that is strong, durable and cheap to make. Researchers think the fiber-based composite material could be used to build cars, ships, wind turbine blades and even low-cost housing.
Jute are fibers sourced from the bark of the white jute, Corchorus capsularis, a shrub species cultivated in South America and Asia. The fiber is eco-friendly, as it is biodegradable and easily recycled.
Because it is relatively cheap and readily available -- the second most abundant natural fiber after cotton -- jute is ideal for use in commercial manufacturing.
Other natural fiber composites aren't particularly strong, but lab tests proved the addition of graphene significantly improves jute's material qualities.
"This is an example of judicious combination of low-value, carbon-neutral commodity fibers with an extremely small volume fraction of high-value graphene in order to create a material system that could replace energy-intensive carbon and glass fibers in a number of light-weight structural applications," Prasad Potluri, researcher at the University of Manchester, said in a news release.
Researchers at Manchester's National Graphene Institute created the new composite material by coating jute with graphene oxide and graphene flakes. The small additive resulted in a 200 percent increase in the material's shear strength and a 100 percent increase in its bend strength.
Scientists detailed their new material in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.
"Jute, once known as 'the golden fibers of Bangladesh,' lost its glaze in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced," said Nazmul Karim, research fellow at National Graphene Institute. "However, with growing environmental concerns with plastics, the use of natural fibers such as jute is on rise again."
Car manufacturers are already using jute in the construction of interior car panels. Soon, graphene-reinforced jute could allow natural fiber composite to be incorporated into more kinds of manufacturing.
"I believe our graphene-based jute fibers could play a very important role in meeting the growing demand of more environmentally friendly products for various industries," Karim said.