‘Super Wood’ Could Be the Next Steel
March 22, 2018
University of Maryland researchers announced they’ve created a way to make wood stronger, lighter, and cheaper than steel. The researchers see the super wood as having a major influence in the building industry one day.
“This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and ten times tougher,” says Liangbing Hu, a Maryland professor and leader of the team who conducted the research. “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.”
The research team’s findings are documented in the journal Nature. The team’s process to the stronger wood included removing the wood’s lignin—which gives it the brown color and makes it rigid—and then compressing it tightly under mild heat. The compression also makes the wood five times thinner than its original size, the researchers note.
“We’re interested in replacing steel and carbon fibers with strong wind structures,” says Hu.
Indeed, the stronger wood is as strong as steel, but six times lighter, notes engineering professor Teng Li, a co-leader on the research team. “It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood,” he notes. “It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.”
Researchers tested the strength of the super wood by shooting bulletlike projectiles at it. The projectiles were only able to get halfway through the treated wood, while they went straight through both sides of the natural wood.
“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,” Hu says. “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings—any application where steel is used.”
Updated: October 22, 2018