Wood, a notoriously opaque substance, has apparently been resting on its laurels for far too long and not reaching its full potential, a team of researchers from Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), the University of Maryland, and the University of Colorado believes.
The team has developed a process to remove the pigment from balsa wood, creating a completely transparent wood that they believe could be superior to glass in nearly every circumstance when used as windows. Their published findings, titled “A Clear, Strong, and Thermally Insulated Transparent Wood for Energy Efficient Windows,” say that the material is lighter, more durable, up to five times more thermally efficient, and creates much less carbon emissions than is glass counterpart.
“The energy used for regulating building temperatures accounts for 14% of the primary energy consumed in the U.S. One-quarter of this energy is leaked through ineffcient glass windows in cold weather. The development of transparent composites could potentially provide affordable window materials with enhanced energy efficiency,” the paper explains.
When the wood window is impacted by an object, it either bends or splinters, as opposed to shattering.
By treating the balsa wood, which is very low density and fast growing, with an oxidizing bath and then penetrating it with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the researchers were able to make the wood virtually transparent.
What about moisture and water resistance, though? It appears that additional testing will need to be conducted. The research team did not that they experimented with applying an oil-based polyurethane onto the transparent wood, which performed much better in humidity and water immersion tests.
This isn’t the first time transparent glass has been researched, either. In 2016, researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology also discovered a way to create transparent wood. More information on that research can be found by clicking or tapping here.
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