You read that right: there is now a way to make wood transparent, making this timeless natural material even more versatile than it already is and opening up virtually limitless architectural and design capabilities for the future. Though it’s a long way from being commercially available, ‘invisible wood’ is in fact a reality now that scientists at University of Maryland, College Park have developed a special chemical process to remove the lignin that gives wood its color.
Not only is this processed wood as clear as glass, it’s sturdier than traditional wood, too, and could be used in place of less environmentally friendly materials in applications where unbreakable glass is needed. According to Dr. Lianging Bhu of the University’s Department of Material Science and Engineering, the key is chemically removing the lignin and then injecting the empty veins of the wood with epoxy to make it strong and durable. Similar to the cellular structure of bone, the tiny channels that naturally occur in wood are responsible for its strong yet flexible qualities.
Glass has poor thermal isolation, making it a weak point for temperature regulation in most sustainably-designed structures. Since wood is a natural insulator, it could make a dramatic difference in keeping buildings protected from extreme hot and cold.
“Potentially, the wood could be made to match or even exceed the strength of steel per weight, with the added benefit that wood could be lighter in weight,” says Hu. “It’s exciting. And because the material has been used for a long time, there’s already a lot of know-how and manufacturing infrastructure in the wood industry so the field will develop very quickly.”
This breakthrough comes on the heels of a major renaissance of large-scale wooden architecture picking up speed around the world, as government officials approve building projects on wooden skyscrapers towering higher than ever. All of these advancements point to a looming resurgence in demand for wood, boosting the industry on virtually all levels.