The piece of glass in the photo was made from wood. (Photo: USDA Forest Service)
Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado have found a better way to make wood transparent. The conventional method involves a long process using chemicals to remove the lignin. In this new effort, the researchers are able to make wood transparent by changing the lignin rather than removing the lignin.
Wood’s lack of transparency comes from the combination of its two main components, cellulose and lignin. The researchers removed lignin molecules that are involved in producing wood color. First, they applied hydrogen peroxide to the wood surface and then exposed the treated wood to UV light (or natural sunlight). The wood was then soaked in ethanol to further clean it. Next, they filled in the pores with clear epoxy to make the wood smooth.
This method produces transparent wood that is 50 times stronger than the old method. The new method will be used to improve solar technology and window production.
Transparent wood is one of the most promising new materials. The number of uses and benefits has yet to be fully realized. The production of transparent building materials will have an impact on the architecture of the future. It will be possible to live in a glass house made of wood!