"Transparent" Wood Windows May Be In Your Future!

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A close-up look at the transparent wood created by Dr. Lars Berglund and co-authors (Photo Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Wood has many great properties that make it the perfect building material — It is cheap, durable, easily available, and most importantly, environmentally sustainable. The one thing it is not, is transparent! Now thanks to a team of scientists at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology the versatile material may even be able to add that attribute to its already impressive list.

Lead researcher Dr. Lars Berglund, who heads the Institute's biocomposites division, says he was inspired to create the transparent wood after learning how Japanese researchers had developed a see-through paper for use in flexible display screens for electronic devices. The team began by stripping out the wood's lignin. The naturally occurring complex polymer strengthens cell walls by bonding tightly with the cellulose. This is what makes wood hard and opaque, and also gives the material its characteristic brown color.

Photo Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology

The "bleached" lignin-free wood was then infused with a polymer similar to the one used to make Plexiglas and baked at a temperature of 158°F for four hours. The result was a hybrid product that was not only stronger and lighter than the original wood but also, almost transparent. More importantly, it retained the same structure as timber, which means it could easily be used as a substitute for the original material.

The researchers were able to adjust the level of transparency by varying the amount of the polymer injected and also by changing the thickness of the wood. For instance, when they used the technique on an ultra-thin 0.7 mm piece, the resulting wood was 90% transparent. With a thicker, 3.7 mm chunk, the level of transparency dropped to 40%.

While scientists have previously created a see-through wood for small-scale applications like computer chips, "Franken-wood" is the first one being considered for large scale applications. The researchers, who revealed their findings in Biomacromolecules on April 11, envision using the transparent wood in buildings to allow for more natural light, or to create sturdier windows that let in the desired amount of light without sacrificing privacy.

Wood that allows light to pass through could lead to a brighter future for homes and buildings. (Photo Credit: American Chemical Society)

Berglund also thinks the wood could play a significant role in the design of solar panels. The semi-transparent material would be able to retain light longer and give it more time to interact with the conductor, thus resulting in better solar efficiency. Additionally, substituting the currently used silica-based glass with this new product would help solar energy manufacturers improve their carbon footprint and lower the cost.

The team’s next goal is to enhance the transparency of the new material and test the technique on different types of wood. They are also experimenting with ways to scale up the manufacturing process so that the transparent material is cost-effective to make and easy to use.

Resources: Sciencenews, sciencedaili.com,sciencealert.com, Acs.org

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320 Comments
  • bobabout 6 years
    happy as can be and I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!
    • youtuber soonabout 6 years
      soon to be a youtuber and i'm in 5th grade !!!!!!!!!!!
      • logan bealeabout 6 years
        I think this was a good article if we don't have air we will die because we need air to breath. we do need to stop using al the wood or we will die. we should use rocks or brick instead of wood!!!!this was real cool too
        • awesomeguy2000
          awesomeguy2000over 6 years
          I think we should continue using grass! I don't really get one thing. What's the point of making another worse material replacing a better material!
          • koolkat75
            koolkat75over 6 years
            I like this because this is cool, but why use wood? If we use up all the trees, we wont have any oxygen left. We wont breathe and die. And also, wood is flammable, and we have enough fires already. Just use 1 tree, they are pretty big. This is a bad idea.
            • munchie404
              munchie404over 6 years
              I don't think this is a good idea we already waste trees enough why can't they use something else but no scientists always mess the world up.
              • butterflycool
                butterflycoolover 5 years
                I agree, scientists r really going to mess up the economy. A really funny quote I read once said "New technology is only more efficient ways to go backwards" this fits in perfectly with the situation
              • doggieswoofwoof
                doggieswoofwoofover 6 years
                OK, This is cool and everything, but by doing this we are cutting down the trees that give us oxygen. And we are destroying animals habitats! The last things is wood is very flammable so we can burn the building down with the windows! The only cool thing is that people found out how to made a solid transparent. Is this a good idea or a bad idea?
                • snowpawpup
                  snowpawpupover 6 years
                  Why are you people using so much wood? If we do that, then people will not be able to use the wood. It is better to use one tree with out transparency then using 10 trees. #Save Trees
                  • lemonade11
                    lemonade11over 6 years
                    that is cool, but it will make trees more scarce, and we will live like The Lorax. thats not good. What I am shocked about though, is that is is stronger than real wood, and is thinner. Wow
                  • gwgyuwegover 6 years
                    Cool