Transparent wood promises to become the window to the future?

Many different types of wood, from balsa to oak, can be made transparent, and it doesn’t matter if it is cut along the grain or against it.

[Feb 12, 2022: Diane Banegas]

Could looking through trees be the view to a greener future? Trees replacing the clear pane glass in your windows is not a work of science fiction. It’s happening now.

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado, have developed a transparent wood material that may be the window of tomorrow. Researchers found that transparent wood has the potential to outperform glass currently used in construction in nearly every way.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Advanced Functional Materials in their paper, “A Clear, Strong, and Thermally Insulated Transparent Wood for Energy Efficient Windows.”

During the heating process, optical transmittance increases by 6% and reaches 68% for 1.5 mm thick see-through wood thermal energy storage. (CREDIT: Xia et al., Sci. Adv. 2021; 7 : eabd7342 27)

While glass is the most common material used in window construction it comes with a costly economic and ecological price.

Related Stories:

Heat easily transfers through glass, especially single pane, and amounts to higher energy bills when it escapes during cold weather and pours in when it’s warm. Glass production in construction also comes with a heavy carbon footprint. Manufacturing emissions are approximately 25,000 metric tons per year.

Now, transparent wood is emerging as one of the most promising materials of the future.

Transparent wood is created when wood from the fast-growing, low-density balsa tree is treated to a room temperature, oxidizing bath that bleaches it of nearly all visibility. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), creating a product that is virtually transparent.

The natural cellulose in its wood structure and energy-absorbing polymer filler in transparent wood means that it is far more durable and lighter than glass. It can withstand much stronger impacts than glass and, unlike glass, it bends or splinters instead of shattering.

Switching to transparent wood could prove to be cost efficient as well. It is approximately five times more thermally efficient than glass, cutting energy costs. It is made from a sustainable, renewable resource with low carbon emissions. It’s also compatible with existing industrial processing equipment, making the transition into manufacturing an easy prospect.

Many different types of wood, from balsa to oak, can be made transparent, and it doesn’t matter if it is cut along the grain or against it. If the transparent wood is made a little thicker, it would be strong enough to become part of the structure of a building, so there could be entire transparent wooden walls.

Potential applications for transparent wood

  • transparent wood roofs can be designed to certain buildings for providing uniform and comfortable illumination

  • transparent wood panels for lower thermal conductivity, better impact strength, and lower density as compared to glass

  • transparent structural material for some of the photovoltaic devices such as electrochromic devices and solar cells

  • transparent wood façades in cases where there is a requirement for sunlight to illuminate the interior

With all of these potential benefits for consumers, manufacturing and the environment, the case for transparent wood couldn’t be…clearer.

For more technology news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.

Note: Materials provided above by Diane Banegas. Content may be edited for style and length.

Like these kind of stories? Get The Brighter Side of News' newsletter.

Tags: #New_Innovations, #Environment, #Science, #Technology, #Building_Materials, #Green_Good_News, #Sustainability, #The_Brighter_Side_of_News

Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.