WHAT DO MUSSELS HAVE IN COMMON WITH MODEL T FORDS?
OR, IF YOU PREFER modern technology, mussels and jet engine turbines? The answer is the metal vanadium. Here are tidbits on this commonality gleaned from Science magazine and from my usual Internet sleuthing.
Mussels. Johnathan J. Wilker reports in “Rare Metal, Precious Adhesion,”Science magazine, October 8, 2021, that “marine mussels use vanadium, along with iron, to construct their protein-based adhesive.”
Model T Fords. As described by Lindsay Brooke inPopular Mechanics, September 25, 2000, “This lightweight, durable, easily machined steel alloy was developed in Europe and used on racing cars and premium-priced vehicles before Ford became aware of it around 1905. He recognized that the material’s high tensile strength (nearly three times greater than cheaper, lower-grade steels) would allow him to make a stronger, lighter, better performing car.”
Brooke continued, “Ford and his small team of engineers first tested vanadium steel in their Model N and S cars during 1906-1907, before deciding to use it in many of the Model T’s critical highly stressed parts including the crankshaft, forged front axle, and wheel spindles.”
Today’s Technology. In October 2017, Rick Mills described vanadium as “The Metal We Can’t Do Without and Don’t Produce.” He noted, “Just two pounds of vanadium added to a tonne of steel doubles its strength, so it is unsurprising that 80% of vanadium is used to make ferrovanadium—a steel additive…. Twenty years ago no vanadium went into cars, versus around 45 percent today.”
“By 2025,” Mills predicted back in 2017, “it’s estimated that 85 percent of all automobiles will incorporate vanadium alloy to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their fuel efficiency to conform to stringent fuel economy standards set by the US EPA. Who would have thought any material could make steel ‘greener’?”
What’s more, a thin layer of vanadium bonds titanium to steel, making it ideal for aerospace applications. Mixing titanium with vanadium and iron strengthens and adds durability to turbines that spin up to 70,000 rpm.
Today’s Resource Challenge.Wikipedia describes the challenge: Vanadium is abundant, yet rare. It’s detected spectroscopically in the Sun and sometimes in other stars; in the universe it’s nearly as common as copper or zinc.
It’s the 20th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. However, it’s typically combined with other elements in some 65 different minerals. Crucially, more than 97 percent of the world’s vanadium comes from only three countries: South Africa, north-western China, and eastern Russia.
Yet, Wikipedia also notes, “The vanadyl ion is abundant in seawater….” Which brings us to mussels.
From their Abstract: “To anchor in seashore habitats, mussels fabricate adhesive byssus fibers that are mechanically reinforced by protein-metal coordination mediated by 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA). The mechanism by which metal ions are integrated during byssus formation remains unknown.”
“In this study,” they continue, “we investigated the byssus formation process in the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, combining traditional and advanced methods to identify how and when metals are incorporated. Mussels store iron and vanadium ions in intracellular metal storage particles (MSPs) complexed with previously unknown catechol-based biomolecules.”
This, it’s noted, is akin to our two-tube epoxies mixed immediately upon application.
“During adhesive formation,” the researchers explain, “stockpiled secretory vesicles containing concentrated fluid proteins are mixed with MSPs within a microfluidic-like network of interconnected channels where they coalesce, forming protein-metal bonds within the nascent byssus.”
They conclude, “These findings advance our understanding of metal use in biological materials with implications for next-generation metallopolymers and adhesives.”
All this from mussels sticking together in the intertidal. ds