All paper is made of cellulose, which at the nanoscale level is quite strong, but paper processing makes large, fragile fibers that break easily. Researchers in Sweden have have come up with a manufacturing process that keeps the fibers small, resulting in 'nanopaper' with over 1.6 times the tensile strength of cast iron (214 megapascals vs. 130 mPa). And since cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on the planet, it's cheap to use compared to other exotic, expensive-to-produce options — such as carbon nanotubes.
To toughen paper up, Berglund and his colleagues kept the cellulose fibers small. They did this by breaking down wood pulp in water with a combination of enzymes and mechanically beating it further. The result: defect-free nanofibers about 1000 times smaller than typical cellulose fibers. As a final step, the researchers treated their nanofibers with carboxymethanol, which coated the fibers in carboxyl groups. These groups readily form hydrogen bonds that helped the fibers make tight contacts with one another, further strengthening the material.