Transparent wood is not a novelty . Although it had been invented, it had not left the laboratory, since its developments were very limiting, so it was not possible to consider a large-scale use. Now, thanks to the contribution of some Swedish scientists, things have changed like a sock and, thanks to various scientific contributions, there is already a method to create transparent wood on a large scale.
It has been a research team from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm that makes this possible through a new method that allows creating transparent wood in large quantities. This opens up endless eco friendly possibilities. Among others, it can change the way we build buildings and solar panels.
Interesting: Wood as fuel
To create the transparent wood , the researchers began by chemically removing a substance called lignin, one of the fundamental components of it. From the Latin term “lignum” (wood), it appears in the woody tissues of vegetables and its function is to hold cellulose fibers together and perform essential functions for their life, providing rigidity and improving their defense system against microorganisms.
This component of the wood makes it rigid and dark in color, making up 25 percent of the wood. Although it performs multiple essential functions for the life of plants, as a material for different uses, it prevents light from passing through, and this can be an advantage, be indifferent or represent a problem.
The fact that their presence blocks about 90 percent of the light can indeed be a drawback. Either by not allowing its use in multiple projects or by limiting it tremendously. But its removal turns it into a white material, so it was necessary to go one step further to make it transparent.
Scientists at the University of Maryland obtained high transparency by removing the lignin molecule from wood and then filling colorless cellulose cell structures with epoxy , according to results published in the journal Advanced Materials.
Making it transparent, in effect, required adding epoxy or polyepoxide to the wood, a thermoset polymer that hardens when mixed with a catalyst or hardener agent. In this way, they achieved transparency and resistance. A product twice as strong as organic glass, characterized by being more resistant than conventional glass.
Scientists affirm that it can be used in the manufacture of car windows or as a replacement for any other transparent surface in which glass is usually used.
Scientists are also confident that they can find new photovoltaic energy solutions using this new material . Specifically, they believe it could be used to make advanced solar panels.
The idea would be to take advantage of its transparency so that light enters more easily through “trap cells”, and then the turbidity of the wood (which exceeds 70 percent) would be very advantageous to trap the light . The objective would be none other than to keep the light bouncing near a solar panel, which would do its job by absorbing it. In this way, it would seek to achieve greater efficiency.
As is well known, wood is one of the most widely used building materials in the world. It is characterized by its toughness, low density and thermal conductivity or resistance , among other mechanical properties, in addition to its durability, accessibility. Of course, for it to be sustainable it must also come from renewable sources.
Transparent wood could further increase this use, as it remains cheap and renewable, retains other of its advantages and increases its resistance, in addition to letting light through. An entire invention to improve the interior luminosity through windows and even translucent facades. It would be, in short, “a unique building material”, point out its creators.
Whether it is used to build buildings, bicycles, modular homes in the field or, transparent wood will continue to be a strong, abundant, cheap and renewable alternative to other conventional materials with high environmental impact.
Wood: sustainable resource? transparent wood
The sustainability of wood is a contentious issue. Is it really a low-cost renewable resource? Although it is considered an affordable, abundant and renewable resource, only if it comes from controlled crops does it prevent deforestation. In fact, it is of little use to obtain it in a sustainable way if in the long term the world’s tree mass is going to end up disappearing, as recent studies warn.
If the rate of deforestation stops and we end up achieving the much-needed environmental balance that they provide, the consumption of certified wood will be a whole lot. Otherwise, planting trees for cutting would end up becoming an absurdity or, better still, a luxury that we could not afford.
As a possible disadvantage of transparent wood , let us note the environmental problem that the massive use of this type of resin can entail, including its possible toxic effect, which will vary according to the amount added. And, be that as it may, the environmental impact that the lignin removal process implies should also be taken into account.
That is, since it is a newly invented product, the life cycle of the product is still unknown. Basically, we still have to know something as important as its environmental impact from the moment the raw material is obtained until it runs through the entire production and distribution chain. Clarifying information in which different variables come into play that determine the greater or lesser safety of its ingredients, its carbon footprint and, in general, the environmental impact and toxic effects that it implies.