‘Transparent Wood’ Could Clear Up Some Big Environmental Problems

Strong, lightweight and inexpensive, wood is hard to beat as a building material. But Swedish scientists may have done just that. They’ve taken ordinary, opaque wood and chemically modified it so that light can pass right through.

The researchers say widespread use of their “transparent” wood could slash energy costs by reducing the need for artificial lighting inside homes and other buildings.

The ongoing research, which was described online in the March 4 issue of the journal Biomacromolecules, could also lead to wood with other beneficial properties built in, including magnetism and even the ability to retard fires.

“This opens up new ideas for how to utilize wood not only as a structural material but also as a functional material,” said Dr. Lars Berglund, head of the division of biocomposites at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and one of the researchers. “By using his modification approach we can preserve the attractive features of wood, like low density and high strength, and make wood a much more advanced building material.”

The new material isn’t clear crystal clear, but hazy. The researchers say that its haziness means the material traps some light — which suggests it could be used to create highly efficient solar cell “windows” that generate electricity while letting sunlight pass through. And, of course, the haziness means a measure of privacy for folks inside.

Thus the stuff could reduce a building’s net energy consumption not only by reducing the need for artificial lighting but also by generating electricity.

That could be a very big deal, as research shows that residences account for a whopping 27 percent of global energy consumption, as well as 17 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

To create transparent wood, Berguland and his collaborators took ordinary balsa wood and chemically treated it to remove —> Read More