Let the light shine in, through wood

By | May 18, 2019

While having a room full of windows can be lovely, unless it is double-glazed glass is not a great option for thermal efficiency.

Timber, on the other hand, has quite good thermal properties, and wood products are environmentally sustainable in their natural ability to store carbon and promote low-carbon lifestyles (and when responsibly sourced, renewable).

Now scientists have made a break-through in blending the best bits of glass and timber: transparent wood.

According to Planet Ark, compared to mainstream construction materials, transparent wood offers impressive energy-efficiency in homes. It provides strong infrastructure, while not compromising the ability to store and release heat. The resulting benefits are a reduction of energy consumption at home, and a lower energy bill at the end of the month.

The MRS Bulletin reported in February that the process involves removing lignin, the structural polymer found in plant cell walls and the element that blocks light in timber, which then lets light pass through.

The remaining spaces are then backfilling with a transparent polymer like an epoxy resin or acrylic.

This allows the wood to bare heavy loads. Even though acrylic is non-biodegradable and water-repellent, it benefits the material by restoring the strong infrastructure of the wood.

In previous attempts to reduce timber opacity, the lignin was boiled out of the wood in bleach but now tests have shown that steaming the wood is able to remove more lignin and also retain the structural integrity of the wood by keeping the cellulose in the cell walls intact.

There is a way to go until you can start building your house with it though. The test pieces were only around 20cm square, although scientists believe the size of wood samples is only limited by the steam container and the manufacturing method is scalable.

Inside Science also reported on the advancement, speculating that when the panels become available to the public, we might be able to build greenhouses with tough, transparent wood panes, a sight that could confuse philosophers who say that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

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