Researchers from Sweden and US have successfully developed the Transparent Wood as an eco-friendly alternative.
The treated material which looks like clear plastic, has all the same insulating and environment friendly qualities as regular wood but lets through much more light.
Researchers working on the product believe it could one day be used in construction and design as an alternative to plastic or glass, but there’s a long way to go before it makes it to your living room.
A group of scientists from the University of Maryland worked on this composite material. To create it, materials scientist Dr. Liangbing Hu boils the wood in a bath of chemicals, stripping away any lignin, which gives the wood colour.
As the New York Times reports, this leaves behind the basic cell structure of the wood. Next, he pours clear epoxy over the block, encasing and protecting it.
Dr. Hu has authored a paper on his team’s achievement, which has been published in the Advanced Materials journal. Speaking to the Times, he said: “This can really open applications that potentially replace glass and some optical material.”
Transparent wood is also being developed on the other side of the world, at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Like Dr. Hu, Professor Lars Berglund uses chemicals to remove the wood’s lignin and replaces it with a polymer, creating fine strips of wood which are 85 per cent transparent, according to FastCo Design.
Berglund hopes the material will one day be used in eco-friendly solar cells, as a readily available and renewable alternative to glass.
The material does have its limitations, however. Currently, the blocks which can be produced are very small – the largest pieces made by Dr Hu have only been around one centimetre thick and a few inches wide, while Berglund’s sheets are generally paper-thin.
There’s also concerns about how affordable and efficient the brand-new technique could be made.
However, new technologies are always expensive at the start, and as research continues, the scientists hope the production process will become more scalable and affordable.