Researchers at the University of Maryland have figured out how to make wood transparent.
Wood and glass are both common building materials but have vastly different properties. Wood is strong, but is susceptible to rotting or destruction by critters. It is also not see-through. Glass is transparent. But it’s also fragile and can easily crack or shatter.
The university research team has patented the process they say gives the see-through wood "high-impact energy absorption that eliminates the safety issues often presented by glass."
In the process, wood is bleached and boiled in lye which removes the compound that makes wood brown, called lignin. It is then soaked in a “clear liquid” and put in an epoxy which makes it clearer, and strengthens it to the point that it can be hit with a hammer and not shatter.
Because the process is patented, some of the exact details remain hidden.
The researchers’ invention not only makes wood transparent, it makes it stronger. Glass is used as a building material because it lets light in, but has the disadvantage of letting out heat and not being energy efficient. The wood could let in a similar amount of light but keep in heat.
“The demonstrated transparent wood composite exhibits great promise as a future building material, especially as a replacement of glass toward energy efficient building with sustainable materials,” the researchers wrote in the abstract of a paper on the topic.
The material may be more energy efficient, but the current process to make it isn’t environmentally friendly just yet because of the epoxy.