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Credit:  USDA Forest Service

This kicks glass! Newly created transparent wood could be the window of tomorrow

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Oct 8, 2020, 2:04 AM EDT (Updated)

Glass, Mother Nature's most distinctive and omnipresent substance, might emerge as semi-obsolete down the road, as scientists from the United States Forest Service have recently concocted what they describe as transparent wood, opening the door to what may become the greener, shatterless window of the next decade.

A new research paper titled, “A Clear, Strong, and Thermally Insulated Transparent Wood for Energy Efficient Windows” published in the Journal of Advanced Functional Materials, from Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) scientist Junyong Zhu in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado, documents the creation of an advanced transparent wood material. It offers the potential of outperforming glass being presently used in all forms of construction in myriad ways.

Used to make clear windows delivering sunlight into dark dwellings since the Late Middle Ages, glass is the most common material used in window construction. However, it's not the most economical or ecological to employ, and is notorious for heat transference, which leads to costly energy bills. 

Credit: Getty Images

Also, glass production carries a seriously heavy carbon footprint, with processing and manufacturing emissions totaling nearly 25,000 metric tons every year. Transparent wood, as far-fetched as it sounds, could be the answer as it emerges as a frontrunner for a remarkable material of the future.

The sorcery of transparent wood is accomplished by harvesting wood from the swift-growing, low-density balsa tree, which is then treated to a tepid, oxidizing bath that bleaches out almost all aspects of its visibility.

Next, a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is carefully applied to the wood, where it penetrates the fibrous structure, thus making an amazing, near-invisible product. 

The balsa wood's natural cellulose and the injected, energy-absorbing polymer filler allow it to gain greater durability and become far lighter than traditional glass, with only partial splintering and bending occurring when struck by an object.

Credit: USDA Forest Service

With a thermal efficiency five times that of regular glass, transparent wood could seemingly be a smart option for homebuilders and property owners.

The allure originates from it being a sustainable, renewable resource resulting from an astonishingly low level of carbon emissions, and its compatible transition into mainstream industrial processing plants could make it a simple solution to greener construction requirements.

Is transparent wood a clear choice or are you leery of getting splinters from your new bay window?

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