Scientists have found a new way to treat wood to turn it into a super-strong resource. “Super Wood” was created at the University of Maryland by developing a process that makes the treated wood 12 times stronger and 10 times tougher than natural wood.
The researchers who developed this process believe the material is comparable and possibly stronger, than many titanium alloys. While steel is always a go-to source for strong and durable material, not to mention that it’s the most recycled material on the planet, this new wood material may soon become a top competitor, especially since it’s about six times lighter than steel.
Lead researcher, Liangbing Hu of UMD’s engineering school, explained “This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It’s also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive.
To test the strength of the wood, the research team shot fake bullets at the material. The projectile passed through the natural wood, but the treated wood was able to stop the bullet before it could fully penetrate the material.
The process of creating the wood begins by compressing the fibers by removing particular polymers within traditionally softer woods. Different types of wood were boiled in a sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfate solution for over seven hours. The solution was able to keep the cellulose intact but allowed for more space to the wood’s porous structure. That wood was then pressed at 100 degrees Celsius for a whole day.
The result? A piece of wood 20% thinner but three times as dense as the starting piece.
So while the chemical reactions seem complex, Hu explained that the process is not only cheaper than developing newer materials, but it also has the potential to be a better choice for the environment.
“Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings,” Hu said.
The process has been proven to work on a variety of types of woods, leaving room for endless possibilities.
Material engineers are already discussing the possibilities of what can be done with this super material. Not only could it be used in aircraft and cars, it could also be used in furniture and other markets.
However, there is a lot more work to be done before mass producing this material. According to the researchers, the next step is to scale up and speed up the process of producing the new wood, which they believe won’t be a problem.