A Clear Breakthrough

Researchers from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD) recently published an article explaining how scientists at the university were able to develop an efficient method of treating wood so it can become transparent.

Materials engineers from UMD published the paper which explains the chemical makeup of wood and their scientific engineering, which allowed them to achieve a material with similar transparency to glass, but all the material properties of wood.

“Lignin not only endows natural wood with a brownish color but also serves as a binder for cellulose and hemicellulose,” the paper explains. “After chemical brushing and solar illumination, the lignin chromophore and hemicellulose are removed, and the natural wood becomes colorless, but the modified lignin remains and can still effectively bind and wrap around the cellulose microfibrils to maintain the material’s mechanical properties. Then, epoxy can be easily infiltrated into the loosely packed lignin-modified wood microchannels to prepare the final transparent wood.”

As a result, the glass-like wood has the flexibility, strength, and grain pattern of wood but offers 80 per cent to 90 per cent transparency. Inventwood, a company associated with UMD, is currently working to commercialize this technology.

“Transparent wood is considered a promising structural and light management material for energy-efficient engineering applications,” the authors indicate in the article. “Combining its efficient, patternable, and scalable production, this transparent wood is a promising candidate for applications in energy-efficient buildings.”

This is only the latest technological innovation to come out of the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, Liangbing Hu, Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor and Director of the centre’s group created batteries from wood and wood strong enough to replace steel.

The multidisciplinary research centre encourages collaboration between faculty and partner institutions to invent, manufacture, and use innovative materials such as wood.

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