Scientists are working on a new type of paper that takes better mechanical advantage of the cellulose fibers in plant material that are used to make paper.

“In plant cell walls individual cellulose molecules bind together to
produce fibres around 20 nanometres in diameter, 5000 times thinner
than a human hair. These fibres form tough networks that provide the
cell walls with structural support.

“Cellulose
nanofibres are the main reinforcement in all plant structures and are
characterised by nanoscale dimensions, high strength and toughness,”
Berglund told New Scientist.

Cellulose is extracted from wood to make paper. . .however the mechanical processes used to pulp wood and process it into paper
damage the individual cellulose fibres, greatly reducing their strength.”

Lars Berglund from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, came up with a new method to more gently break down the wood pulp used to make paper.

“The new method involves breaking down wood pulp with enzymes and
then fragmenting it using a mechanical beater. The shear forces
produced cause the cellulose to gently disintegrate into its component
fibres.

The
end result is undamaged cellulose fibres suspended in water. When the
water is drained away Berglund found that the fibres join together into
networks held by hydrogen bonds, forming flat sheets of “nanopaper.”

Mechanical
testing shows it has a tensile strength of 214 megapascals, making it
stronger than cast iron (130 MPa) and almost as strong as structural
steel (250 MPa).

Normal
paper has a tensile strength less than 1 MPa. The tests used strips 40
millimetres long by 5mm wide and about 50 micrometres thick.”

Read the full article (quoted here) here :
http://technology.newscientist.com/article/dn14084
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