Is Transparent Wood the Next Green Building Breakthrough?
Green building is on the rise, and for good reason. Not only are businesses and consumers becoming more aware of the limited natural resources our planet can provide, but it is also becoming economically viable and competitively necessary to use eco-friendly materials in building and upgrading homes, offices and retail spaces.
According to the World Green Building Council, in 2008, the main reason builders incorporated renewable materials and alternative energy was because it was “the right thing to do.” Today, builders and homeowners are recognizing that these materials and methods lower their expenses and increase their property values.
It makes sense—as in, dollars and cents—to go green.
Now, a new material is being developed that could change the way we look at—and through—solar power, windows, optical equipment and even automobiles.
Transparent wood has been developed by researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park. It looks like plastic, but is sturdy as steel and biodegradable, making it more environmentally friendly than plastics. In addition, it can potentially be used to replace glass, providing better thermal insulation and reducing energy costs.
Researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology had similar success and released their findings nearly simultaneously with the University of Maryland team.
To create transparent wood, the researchers, led by Dr. Liangbing Hu of the University of Maryland’s Department of Material Science and Engineering, use the same chemical process used to create paper to strip away the wood’s lignin, the component that gives wood its brown-yellow color. This leaves the wood’s bare cell structures intact but colorless.
Next, the scientists pour an epoxy over the wood to give it strength. What is left is a nearly transparent block of wood that directs light through the natural channels within it that normally serve to absorb and transport nutrients in live trees.
The implications are potentially tremendous, particularly in the solar industry.
Researchers believe that transparent wood will not only transmit more light and be more efficient than traditional solar cell materials, but is also biodegradable and much safer for both the environment and the workers who handle it.
There are plenty of other applications that are promising for this breakthrough product. It is possible that, one day, architects and developers may use transparent wood as an eco-friendly, energy efficient material in standard construction.
Don’t expect to see transparent wood products on shelves right away, though. Researchers are still trying to hash out the process of making their 5” x 5” blocks large enough for commercial applications.
It also poses other challenges, such as the need for better renewable processes in replacing trees used to manufacture transparent wood products.
It’s all promising, though. As technological advances become more profitable, better materials and better ways of making them will continue to evolve.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Geoffrey Datema/Unsplash
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