While the smartphone industry is mastering flexible screens, researcher Junyong Zhu from the Forest Products Laboratory has collaborated with colleagues from the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado to develop a transparent wood material that can be used in a variety of industries. Interestingly, this material is much stronger and lighter than glass.
A team of researchers used balsa wood as a source material, which was then oxidized at room temperature, making it almost transparent. The wood is then filled with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol, which makes the material transparent at the level of ordinary glass.
This “transparent wood” or “wooden glass” has very interesting characteristics. Natural cellulose in the wood structure and energy absorbent polymeric filler mean that this material is much stronger and lighter than glass. It can withstand much stronger impacts than glass.
Switching to clear wood can also be very cost effective. This material is about five times more thermally efficient than glass, which reduces energy costs. This material can be produced on existing industrial equipment, which simplifies the transition to new technology.
At the moment, researchers focus primarily on the application of transparent wood in construction. Due to its high thermal efficiency, this material is ideal for windows. It can also be potentially used in the automotive industry, the smartphone industry and other industries.