Swedish Researchers Create See-Through Wood
One reason wood is the most popular building material used in American homes is because of its combination of light weight, strength and low cost.
Now imagine what a builder could do with wood you can see through.
Researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have taken a giant step towards making those possibilities a reality. According to an article in Architectural Digest, the researchers have produced a balsa veneer that is 85 percent transparent.
Lars Berglund’s research team achieved this feat by first removing lignin, the natural substance that gives wood its brown color, then adding an acrylic polymer to turn the white wood 85 percent transparent.
The researchers can then adjust the level of transparency by changing the thickness of the veneer or the volume of the polymer added.
This new material opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for eco-friendly architecture, design and construction. The see-through wood could replace plastic or glass in a number of applications, making possible such things as load-bearing windows or translucent walls. It also has potential for use in solar cell panels, replacing nonrenewable materials with renewable ones.
“No one has previously considered the possibility of creating larger transparent structures for use as solar cells and in buildings,” said Berglund in a KTH news article.
As the work was performed at the nanoscale level, there remain many steps to take before this wood product becomes available commercially. Berglund and his team plan to work first on enhancing the transparency of the material, then on scaling up the manufacturing process. They also plan experiments with different types of wood.
“Wood is by far the most used bio-based material in buildings,” said Berglund. “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.”