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Could Transparent Wood Change the Future?

Posted: 15 Nov, 2016.

Is transparent wood the future?

Wood you believe it? It may sound like a belated April Fools’ joke but, transparent wood is very real. Scientists from the KTH Royal Institute of Techonology in Stockholm have created the confusing material. Processing wood to become transparent is no easy task. Lignin is a complex organic polymer that essentially gives wood its brown colour. Researchers began chemically stripping the walls of the cells in wood, noticing that it made the wood snow white. By nanoscale tailoring a transparent polymer in to the wood, the transparency is achieved. 

Frankly, we are not 100 per cent sure what that means either but the results are impressive. Nonetheless, why would you need transparent wood when we have glass and plastic? Shouldn’t the humble elm, oak, and willow be left to become furniture? It may seem bizarre but, considering 57% of Sweden is covered in trees, and wood is one of the country’s biggest exports, we expect seeing the same old timber everyday was getting tiresome. 

Let us explain to you why the new super-material could change the future for many industries.

How Could Transparent Wood Be Used?

KTH transparent woodHead researcher, Lars Burglund, admits that there is a lot more testing to carry out before transparent wood becomes a new Ikea line. However, he is optimistic for the future. Transparent wood could be used as a substitute for plastic or glass; replacing fizzy drinks bottles and jam jars. 

The obvious use for transparent wood would be in the same vain as frosted glass – letting light in but still maintaining semi-privacy. Therefore, it could be implemented in windows and doors, or doors could be made of them completely. On a larger scale, however, Burglund is aiming high. He predicts that entire homes could me made from the new compound. 

Interestingly, transparent wood could be most useful as solar panels. Currently, solar panels are made from chemically treated glass. In a study released by Biomacromolescules, it was found that the construction industry accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of total energy consumption. Burglund commented, “It is therefore of great importance to reduce energy consumption in the building sector. Solar energy is attractive in this context since it is free, inexhaustible, and clean. Light-transmitting buildings can also contribute to reduced demand, since artificial light can be partially replaced by natural light.”

What are the Benefits of Transparent Wood?

So, research suggests that transparent wood could produce an array of great products and structures, but why go to all the effort? Chemical stripping and nano-wotsiting polymer-thingies seems like a rather complex process to enter if there isn’t a great return, other than it looks cool.

Transparent wood still carries the same qualities as untreated wood, such as being a fantastic insulator. It is its transparency and hidden features that make it stand-out. Transparent wood is actually stronger and more resilient than glass or plastic; it is also shatter proof. Furthermore, it is environmentally friendly, sustainable, and biodegradable. 

In October this year, the Recycle Now campaign group revealed that households in the UK are failing to recycle 16 million plastic bottles per day. If these bottles were to be made of transparent wood, they could be used in agriculture or simply placed in compost heaps at home. 

Are There Any Downsides?

With any early stage development, there are inevitably going to be grey areas. Currently, Burglund and his team are only producing small sheets of transparent wood that are paper thin. Furthermore, there are also concerns about the efficiency and affordability of the creation process. 

Despite these apprehensions, it is evident that transparent wood could have a great effect on architecture and sustainability. Hopefully, as research continues, the technique will become affordable and scalable. 

Would you like to read more about transparent wood?  Here are a couple of articles that inspired our blog:

ScienceAlert.com

Fastcodesign.com

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