It may sound nuts, but a new bioplastic being developed by Japan's NEC Corp using cashews could change the way electronics are manufactured in the future.
Of course, normal plastic changed the way electronics and just about everything else is manufactured, but the convenience comes with a price. Synthetic plastics often contain toxic materials. The features that make plastic such a durable material make it difficult to degrade. On top of that, raw materials needed to create synthetic plastic generally includes petroleum and natural gas, and we need those things to help power our cars of the past, present and future.
To help combat the environmentally unfriendly plastic, researchers have been busy developing bioplastics. Instead of using petroleum and natural gas, bioplastics use renewable biomass sources as their bases, such as corn starch and vegetable oil. The end result is generally a plastic that is a lot friendlier to the environment and cheaper to produce, but not nearly as strong or heat resistant as normal plastic.
You wouldn't use bioplastics in devices where high heat levels could be generated, like inside computers or video game consoles.
NEC's new cashew-based bioplastic could change that.
NEC's new bioplastic is created using cellular material from plants and a by-product of cashew processing called cardanol. More than 70 per cent of the new compound is plant material, a larger amount than most bioplastics, which are often bolstered with oil-based additives in order to strengthen heat resistance.
Cardanol has a unique physical structure, comprised of both flexible and rigid parts, which makes for a very flexible while still durable plastic. The resulting material resists heat better than polylactic acid (PA) and cellulose acetate (CLA), two of the more popular bioplastics.
Here are some other advantages of NEC's compound, from the Design News article on the subject:
* Molding time is less than 50 percent of PLA because of its noncrystalline chemical structure. Its molding time is comparable to conventional cellulose-based and petroleum-based plastics.
* It has twice the strength of existing PLA, and is comparable to conventional CA resin.
* It has more than twice the heat resistance (glass transition temperature) of PLA, and approximately 1.3 times more than CA resin.
* Water resistance is comparable to PLA, and approximately three times more than CA resin.
In a nutshell (sorry), what NEC is creating here could be the best alternative to traditional plastic since the invention of traditional plastic. The company isn't planning on commercialising the material until 2013. Barring a major negative turn of events (i.e. cashews gain sentience and start killing people), I expect the impact will be huge.
NEC Develops Cashew-Derived Plastic [Design News]