translucent wood

Would “yew” believe it! Sweden invents transparent wood

Sweden. The land of Abba, Volvo’s, crime drama’s, flat-packed furniture and unnecessary nudity, are set to amaze the world again, or at least, chemists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (“KTH”), are set to amaze people, with a new and very cool invention.

Transparent wood!

Scientists and chemists working in Stockholm have turned humble balsa wood into a translucent sheet, effectively a brand new material, that despite being at least twice the strength of Perspex, is able to be used just like wooden sheets, paving the way for new technologies in construction methods for the future.

It’s not completely see through, it’s technically “opaque” and let’s light through it, unlike wooden panels which do not, but the researchers based around this project say that the new material will allow the heat from sunlight to penetrate the material if used on the outside of a house, meaning that it will, in effect, lower future household heating and lighting costs.

Can’t see the wood for the trees? No more!

Lars Berglund, one of the professors at Wallenberg Wood Science Centre stated that….

“…….”optically transparent” wood had been produced previously in only microscopic samples, but the KTH project has introduced a way to use the material on a greater scale, and for large structures and applications.”

He went on to note that this particular material could house solar cells within it, meaning that, for example, if a house has it’s exterior walls clad with this, the walls themselves could generate the power needed for the home.

So what does this amazing material look like?

Studying the sample at the top of the page, it is hard to believe that we are looking at a piece of WOOD and not a sheet of perspex. It was noted in the American chemical society’s journal that the material produced in Sweden was actually STRONGER than perspex itself.

NOTE: Perspex is artificially created, but the source of this new product is grown by NATURE, making it, in theory, more environmentally friendly.

They noted that although the samples produced were too thin to have much practical use at the moment, when many sheets were combined into a thicker product, the material became stronger, and therefore it’s potential future practical uses became a bit clearer, if you pardon the pun.

How did the team create this new material?

According to the research, the team took ordinary balsa wood, which like most timber/lumber materials, contained a naturally occurring element known as “lignin“, which prevents light passing through the wood.

They found that when they heated the balsa wood at about 70 degrees, this element is drawn out of the cells in the wood, leaving “a strong sheet of transparent cellulose”.

After the heating process, the “wood” was translucent but not actually transparent, so the material was mixed with something called prepolymerized methyl methacrylate, or “PMMA” and no we had never heard of it either, but it made the wood see through, as we see in the photo a few paragraphs earlier.

They admitted that the finished product was a long way off but the initial reception from around the world has been “positive” and the team say that large-scale production of the material in the future looked likely.

The research was funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Possible uses after development:

  • A carrier material for solar cells.
  • An alternative to traditional glass
  • An alternative to perspex (obviously)
  • Exterior cladding for buildings
  • A new material to use in interior design applications
  • A new method of creating display cabinets and storage units.
  • New types of internal and external doors
  • Environmentally-friendly & biodegradable packaging, bottles, jars etc
  • See through furniture and interior fittings
  • Biodegradable materials to make PC tower cabinets, consoles and so on.

So far the team have only been able to create very thin samples, and KTH, and others in the scientific field noted that this was “work in progress” and was quite a few years away from being a material readily available to the public.

They concluded that:…..

“Wood is by far the most used bio-based material in buildings. It’s attractive that the material comes from renewable sources. It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density and low thermal conductivity.”

So look out for further developments as they happen.

Well, WOOD YEW believe it, I didn’t see that coming…

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