We're not sure how this skipped by us last month, but the New Scientist has published an intriguing piece on nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), an increasingly popular material that could eventually replace metal and plastic in a number of areas. Based on wood pulp, NCC can be derived from branches, twigs, and even sawdust, making it extremely cheap to produce — what's more, it offers a strength-to-weight ratio eight times better than stainless steel and can conduct electricity.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown considerable interest in the material, recently opening the world's third nanocellulose production facility in Madison, Wisconsin — other factories already exist in Canada and Sweden. According to the New Scientist, NCC is currently being tested in a new generation of flexible displays by Japanese manufacturer Pioneer, while the US Army is evaluating it for use in body armour and bulletproof glass.

Interestingly, the potential benefits of NCC go far beyond strength, weight, and conductivity. Made of processed plant matter, the material is suitable for human consumption, meaning that it could even be used as a low calorie thickener in foods such as soups and puddings.