CICY scientists develop international biomimetic study on cocoyol fruit’s toughness

(Photo: wikipedia)

The Cocoyol or Coyol (Acrocomia Mexicana) is a palm tree found in the Yucatan Peninsula and in tropical areas of other places in Northern and Central America. Its fruit has been widely studied in recent years due to the great potential for the production of solid biofuel, since it has a high content of cellulose and lignin.

However, the characteristic hardness of the Cocoyol fruit is the reason for the international biomimetic study led by scientists from the Center for Scientific Research of Yucatán (Centro de Investigación científica de Yucatán: CICY) and which objective is to design new multifunctional synthetic materials with diverse technological applications from the fruit, with the possibility of developing advanced composite materials with high strength and low density.

Dr. Emmanuel A. Flores Johnson, Conacyt researcher  and professor of the , explains that biomimicry studies various natural materials of plant or animal origin, their structures, functioning and the way they are made, in order to transfer this knowledge to synthetic or man-made materials.

“It has been shown that by evolutionary means, these materials have developed great resistance to mechanical forces and impacts, for example, seashells, wood, bamboo, bone and teeth.”

Thus, the scientific team, composed of researchers from the CICY Materials Unit, the Higher Technological Institute of Motul (in Yucatan), as well as the University of Sydney in Australia, studied the mechanical properties and the microstructure of the endocarp (part that surrounds the seed) of the Cocoyol fruit.

Frutos del coyol (Photo:

“What was found after compression and indentation tests was that the material is structured hierarchically by several layers with different functions, and that it has a gradient of properties that give the material a unique hardness and tenacity. There was also a scientific study of structural characterization that included a 3D micro-tomography that allowed us to analyze the structure at a microscopic and cellular level,” Dr. Flores Johnson said.

“The results are quite interesting and we will continue to perform tests with computational simulations using the finite element method, which is my area of expertise. The idea is to create this structure or geometric pattern of the fruit and see how we can obtain a biomimetic material to later make a polymeric composite that has the structural form of the Cocoyol and with improved mechanical properties. The transfer of technology once completed is not ruled out” says the doctor of mechanical engineering at the University of Manchester and who is in the process of completing a post-doctorate on biomimicry at the University of Sydney.

Dr. Flores Johnson mentions that the characteristic hardness of the Cocoyol was already reported by Diego de Landa in his book Relaciones de las cosas de Yucatán back in the 16th century.

“I am a native of Yucatan where the Maya legend of the Uxmal dwarf is told, which killed the king by receiving a fatal blow with the hardest fruit of the region, the Cocoyol. Hence the interest in scientifically explaining such hardness, “concluded Dr. Emmanuel A. Flores Johnson, who is a member of level I of the National System of Researchers.

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