Innovation: completely transparent wood, which could replace conventional glass
The subject of this article may seem somewhat ahead of its time: Clear wood windows may soon replace conventional glass windows. However, it is indeed a technology that researchers have been working on for several years now and recently, they have made a remarkable breakthrough that places this futuristic product in the near future. The advantages of such a material are many, including better thermal insulation, better impact resistance and of course, increased durability.
Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu, working with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado, has developed a transparent wood material that could become the window of tomorrow. The researchers found that transparent wood has the potential to outperform glass currently used in construction in almost any area. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Advanced Functional Materials.
While glass is the most common material used in window construction, it has a high economic and ecological price. Heat transfers easily through glass, especially single panes, and leads to increased energy consumption when it escapes in cold weather and spreads out in hot weather. Glass production in the construction sector also has a large carbon footprint. To give you a number: global carbon dioxide emissions from glass manufacturing are around 25 tonnes per year.
A promise for the future
Today, transparent wood is emerging as one of the most promising materials of the coming decades. Transparent wood is, for the time being, created from balsa wood, a fast growing, low density tree. The raw material is treated at room temperature in an oxidizing bath, which bleaches it from almost any opaque material. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), resulting in a virtually transparent material.
The natural cellulose of the wood structure and the energy-absorbing polymer filler of the transparent wood make it much more durable and lighter than glass. It can withstand much greater impacts than conventional glass, and unlike the latter, it bends or splits instead of shattering.
Switching to transparent wood could also prove profitable. In fact, it is about five times more thermally efficient than glass, which reduces energy costs. It is made from a sustainable and renewable resource, with low carbon emissions. It is also compatible with existing industrial processing equipment, which makes the transition to manufacturing this new glass easy. With all of these potential benefits for consumers, manufacturing and the environment, the case for transparent wood couldn't be clearer, and its future in our future homes is foreseeable.
Source: Journal of Advanced Functional Materials https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/ful ... .201907511
Diagram summarizing the manufacturing process of transparent wood, which has various outstanding characteristics compared to glass windows. a) The initial large pieces of naturally aligned lumber are obtained by a variable scale rotary cutting method adopted by the industry. Transparent wood exhibits optimized optical properties after delignification and PVA infiltration. b) A radar map compares the different properties of transparent wood, natural wood and glass, when used as building materials. c) Diagram of the principle of energy saving by using transparent wood in the exterior windows of a building, in cold weather. Credit: University of Maryland / University of Colorado / Forest Products Lab
A piece of clear wood made by the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). FPL's research work on the use of wood for the manufacture of windows is progressing rapidly. Credit: USDA Forest Service
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