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Scientists Made Transparent Wood That's Stronger and Lighter Than Glass

The scientists were able to achieve transparent wood that is stronger and lighter than glass.

In a bid to make wood stronger and lighter than glass to move towards an energy-efficient future, a team of researchers at the University of Maryland has found a new way to make wood completely transparent which they believe to be better than the previous techniques.

The paper, published in the journal Science Advances, details the making of their transparent wood which was found to be 50 times stronger than the ones made using the conventional way.

A transparent wood window to the future?

While you might have heard of the concept, there is a reason why transparent wood is not commercially used. The conventional method -- which involves using chemicals to remove one of the most basic ingredients of wood, lignin -- used to make wood transparent has plenty of downsides, such as taking a lot of time and the production of excessive liquid waste. Moreover, since the process involves the removal of lignin, which bonds fibers in wood to give it strength, the resulting product is rather weak and brittle.

In contrast, this new technique,  which makes wood transparent without having to remove the lignin, is much cheaper and so easy that it could be done in a backyard.

The researchers changed the lignin molecules rather than removing them by applying hydrogen peroxide to the wood's surface and then exposing it to UV light or natural sunlight.

Scientists Made Transparent Wood That's Stronger and Lighter Than Glass
Source: Qinqin Xia, University of Maryland, College Park

Then, they soaked the wood in ethanol to further clean it and filled in the pores with tough transparent epoxy to make it smooth.

This process enabled researchers to achieve wood 50 times stronger than regular clear wood. Moreover, it allowed 90 percent of light to pass through. The end product looks like glass, but it has the strength and flexibility of wood. 

Scientists Made Transparent Wood That's Stronger and Lighter Than Glass
Source: Qinqin Xia, University of Maryland, College Park

The researchers suggest that this method, which they say can be easily scaled up, could be utilized for windows and roofs in the future.

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