Scientists Invent ‘Super Wood’ That Could Replace Steel
Scientists at the University of Maryland have devised a way to make wood up to 12 times stronger in a bid to replace steel with a cheaper, lighter and more renewable alternative.
They claim the robust material, which can stop bullets, could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings and even body armor.
“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,” said lead researcher Liangbing Hu. The research was recently published in Nature.
And it sounds like Hu and his research team had a blast testing out their creation in the lab.
One of the experiments they ran involved firing bullet-like projectiles at the material, alongside regular wood. While they ripped through the latter, the “super wood” managed to block them halfway through.
The breakthrough itself concerns a new treatment that can be applied to all types of wood (including softer wood) to make them denser.
The simple, two-step method begins with boiling the wood in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite, a chemical treatment akin to the first step in creating the wood pulp used to make paper.
The second step is almost as straightforward as the first: compressing the treated wood until its cell walls collapse, then maintaining that compression as it’s gently heated.
The pressure kick-starts a chemical bond between the different forms of atoms that make up the wood’s cellular structure, significantly strengthening the material in the process.
The researchers say that the treatment can be applied to bulk amounts of wood at once and allows them to bend and mold the material into the desired shape at the start.
Scientists have long tried to enhance the strength of wood, so it’s no surprise that they’re hailing the potential benefits of the latest breakthrough.
And with wood being abundant and relatively cheap – as it literally grows on trees – the results could be beneficial for us all.
One day we might be seated on furniture made of super wood, living in houses built of the material and have affordable cars made of densified timber rather than the more expensive steel and titanium alloy vehicles we own now.