Car designers could turn to wood in a bid to make cars lighter, stronger and cheaper.
A material made from wood pulp is five times stronger than steel but weighs 80 percent less, according to researchers in Japan.
And a leading supplier to Toyota is working alongside the boffins at Kyoto University to experiment with plastics that feature wood pulp.
A prototype version of a car using these revolutionary cellulose nanofibers is due to be completed by 2020.
The processing method developed is much cheaper than other similar projects potentially making the material commercially viable in the not too distant future.
It’s currently around four times more expensive than steel and other alloys but experts believe the price gap could be halved by 2030.
Slashing weight is vital for electric cars with fewer batteries required to power lighter motors.
It would make battery-powered cars cheaper – and give them a bigger range between charges.
Masanori Matsushiro, a project manager overseeing body design at Toyota, told Reuters: “Lightweighting is a constant issue for us.
“But we also have to resolve the issue of high manufacturing costs before we see an increased use of new, lighter-weight materials in mass-volume cars.”
Wood pulp isn’t the only steel replacement being worked on by experts.
BMW has introduced a carbon fiber body shell in its i3 while high-strength aluminum alloys are used on top-end motors.
And some have gone a step further with Dutch students making a car from the resin extracted from sugar.