Trees are usually what we see when looking outside our windows. Soon, we may also find trees inside windows — as engineers are now turning to wood as an energy-efficient, alternative material to make glass.
Scientists with the Forest Products Laboratory, a research arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), have developed a wood-based material as thin and transparent as glass, yet lighter, more durable and energy-efficient — with the “potential to outperform glass … in nearly every way,” according to a recent blog post by the USDA.
Glass is also costly to produce, creating a burden of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year during manufacturing, they wrote.
The wood-based material is not only a boon for building, but for homeowners, too. Glass transfers heat quickly, which leads to higher energy bills has warm air escapes through the window pane during the winter.
Cellulose fibers as well as an organic polymer called lignin are two primary structural components of a tree’s flesh, neither of which are see-through. It’s thanks to the addition of hydrogen peroxide — also used in paper production — that helps create transparency.
Usually, lignin and cellulose work to absorb and scatter light, while wood’s chromophores, that atom responsible for producing color, make the material appear brown to the human eye. However, hydrogen peroxide can be added to render the chromophores unable to absorb light and produce a color.
Pressed uber-thin, it causes the reformed wood pulp to appear clear, despite maintaining all the strength and durability of wood.
The USDA study, which included contributions from researchers at the Universities of Maryland and Colorado, was published last year in the Advanced Functional Materials journal.