It’s a twig, it’s a branch, it’s… Super Wood! Researchers at the University of Maryland have created a so-called “super wood” that is stronger than many titanium alloys. The research team used a two-step process to drastically increase the density of the wood, thus reinforcing its strength to 10 times that of traditional wood. “It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter,” research team co-leader Teng Li told ScienceDaily. “It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.”
To create the super material, the research team first boiled wood in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite. With lignin and hemicellulose partially removed, the wood is then hot-pressed to crush cell walls and forge strong nanofibers. The resulting density provides its super strength. “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings — any application where steel is used,” research team co-leader Liangbing Hu Hu told ScienceDaily.
Another of super wood’s special powers is its ability to be sourced sustainably. “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,”said Hu. “Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination,” said professor of mechanics and materials at Harvard University Zhigang Suo, who was not involved in the study. The team at University of Maryland has also created a kind of transparent wood, which could be used to replace glass and plastic with more sustainably sourced, stronger alternatives.