New ways to process wood to add strength and take advantage of the renewable nature of trees and forests continue to surface.
Scientists at the University of Maryland recently published a paper detailed tests where they boiled wood in a soup of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite to soften and partially dissolve some of the fiber before crushing it. The process produced a densified wood that is many time stronger and yet much thinner.
This combination opens up the potential for uses in new and different products, including car bodies. This article from the scientific journal Nature includes a slow-motion video, shown above, of metal shooting through natural wood and densified wood.
This method of strengthening wood is a different approach than the path of research and development using wood-derived nanotechnology-sized particles. Li Teng’s team tested a variety of different species of wood in their work.
The pursuit of different pathways to enhance the natural properties of wood for its use provides society with options to reduce the need for non-renewable materials. As the world’s population continues to grow, along with the desire for a higher standard of living, the development of new, sustainable materials that can used to support modern lifestyles is essentail.
Here’s a deeper look at the research by Mark Zastrow, published in the Feb. 7 edition of Nature:
A chemical bath and a hot-press can transform wood into a material that is stronger than steel, researchers report. The process, and others like it, could make the humble material an eco-friendly alternative to using plastics and metals in the manufacture of cars and buildings.
“It’s a new class of materials with great potential,” says Li Teng, a mechanics specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park and a co-author of the study published on 7 February in Nature1.
Attempts to strengthen wood go back decades. Some efforts have focused on synthesizing new materials by extracting the nanofibres in cellulose — the hard natural polymer in the tubular cells that funnel water through plant tissue.