Iron Man? Feh. How about Paper Man? A new process can create paper with tensile strength 1.6x that of iron.
The new technology, developed by researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, takes ordinary cellulose and puts it through special processing. The end result is a paper, made out of normal wood pulp that has an incredible tensile strength of 1.6 times that of iron. The paper sports 214 MPa of tensile strength, easily trumping iron (130 MPa) and heavy duty paper (103 MPa). Tensile strength helps to measure how resistant a material is to ripping, and how much weight it can support.
The new paper is composed of nano-sized whiskers of cellulose. Cellulose, the crystalline polymer of glucose, is what makes up cell walls and makes plants so rigid. On a nanoscale, cellulose fibers beat steel and glass in strength, but paper is composed of larger cellulose strands that are prone to breakage under stress. Typical commercial paper has a tensile strength of a mere 30 MPa, indicating its weakness.
To make super paper, researchers first had to make the cellulose fibers super small. Head researcher Lars Berglund used enzymes and mechanical beating to tear the cellulose fibers to a mere 1,000 of their original size. Then the researchers added carboxymethanol, which coated the fibers in carbonyl groups. These groups produced hydrogen bonds, further strengthening the material.
Now, if we wanted to make a laptop case out of this, for example, that may not work so well, as this might still burn as well as regular paper, and you might have some problems, particularly with Sony batteries.