Wood is an excellent material. It is a renewable resource. It absorbs the excess carbon dioxide that is present in the earth’s atmosphere. The annual production volume of the main component wood is 20 times higher than that of steel. But it could be better. Soon we will be building with transparent wood.
See through the forest
Buildings lose a lot of heat through glass. It’s not a good insulator so double glazing is required. Wood itself has great insulating capacities, but is not initially transparent.
In recent years, materials engineers have been working on making transparent wood. It comes from a sustainable and renewable raw material. Earlier attempts to do this were associated with enormous energy costs. But a new study brings the subject back to the table.
The lack of transparency in the wood is due to the combined effect of cellulose and lignin. Lignin absorbs light and makes this material look brown. Wood fibers, most of which are made from cellulose, are hollow tubular structures. And the air in these tubes scatters the light. That limits the transparency.
University of Maryland researchers came up with something. Clear wood can be made using a simple chemical, hydrogen peroxide. It is a product that can modify the chromophores present in lignin. That way they would stop absorbing the light. This chemical can spread to wood and then be activated by projection of light. In this way, a glossy white material can be obtained, which we could call blond wood.
Decorate with wood
This technique could be applied to large structures of this material in the same way. Making transparent building materials would take a significant leap: it offers great opportunities to create decorative effects. Hence, the use of panels made from this new material could become popular indoors where they would continue to provide their additional insulating capacity.
Soon we could build with transparent wood, but greatly optimize the chemical reaction by automating the process. But one day we’ll look up at the sky … through the forest in our window.