Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new composite material using wood pulp and dried pieces of an invasive exotic pest called tunicates. Tunicates have no known natural predators and rapidly reproduce in marine environments which cause issues for boat engines and fishing equipment, decrease plankton populations, kill native fish, and destroy shellfish beds. According to Johan Foster of Virginia Tech University, tunicate-derived nanocellulose has remarkable physical properties due to their inner structure which is made up of very long, highly crystalline nanocellulose. The researchers found that adding tunicate-derived nanocellulose to wood-derived nanocellulose enables the composite to become stiffer, more flexible, and UV-reflective. Potential applications include food packaging, building materials, biomedical applications, and composite applications in the automotive industry.
“Many materials begin to degrade if they are exposed to the sun for a long time,” said Jeff Gilman (leader of composites team at NIST). “This material could potentially be used as a coating on other surfaces in order to reflect light and extend durability.”