Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) sounds almost too good to be true. The same microscopic particles that help trees to stand up straight are also lightweight, non-toxic, stronger than steel and just happen to be the most abundant organic compound on Earth. First studied in earnest in the early 1990s, manufacturers can now produce pure NCC from wood pulp.
Some early boosters are predicting that NCC will replace metals, conventional glass, and petroleum-based plastics in everything from helicopters to office towers. The material is cheap, and doesn't even require felling entire trees: It can be recovered from twigs, sawdust and presumably any plant with woody components. Though NCC is cheap, is potential profitability is anything but. The USDA anticipates that the nanocrystalline cellulose market will hit $600 billion by 2020. NCC might wean us off mining for nonrenewable resources, might lead to a second rush on the world's forests, or may simply blow away in a puff of nanoscale hype.
Via Atlantic Cities.