New process could make wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and cheaper

Super wood could replace steel
Liangbing Hu, left, and Teng Li, right, are engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park who have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger and tougher than before. Credit: University of Maryland

Engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) have found a way to make wood more than 10 times times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

"This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher," said Liangbing Hu of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering and the leader of the team that did the research, to be published on February 8, 2018 in the journal Nature. "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." Hu is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

"It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature," said Teng Li, the co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at UMD's Clark School. His team measured the dense wood's mechanical properties. "It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter. It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process."

The team also tested the new wood material and natural wood by shooting bullet-like projectiles at it. The projectile blew straight through the natural wood. The fully treated wood stopped the projectile partway through.

"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 said.

"The paper provides a highly promising route to the design of lightweight, high performance structural materials, with tremendous potential for a broad range of applications where high strength, large toughness and superior ballistic resistance are desired, " said Huajian Gao, a professor at Brown University who was not involved in the study. "It is particularly exciting to note that the method is versatile for various species of wood and fairly easy to implement."

"This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings - any application where steel is used," Hu said.

"The two-step process reported in this paper achieves exceptionally high strength, much beyond what [is] reported in the literature," said Zhigang Suo, a professor of mechanics and materials at Harvard University, also not involved with the study. "Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination."

"The most outstanding observation, in my view, is the existence of a limiting concentration of lignin, the glue between wood cells, to maximize the mechanical performance of the densified wood. Too little or too much removal lower the strength compared to a maximum value achieved at intermediate or partial lignin removal. This reveals the subtle balance between hydrogen bonding and the adhesion imparted by such polyphenolic compound. Moreover, of outstanding interest, is the fact that that wood densification leads to both, increased strength and toughness, two properties that usually offset each other," said Orlando J. Rojas, a professor at Aalto University in Finland.

Hu's research has explored the capacities of wood's natural nanotechnology. They previously made a range of emerging technologies out of nanocellulose related materials: (1) super clear paper for replacing plastic; (2) photonic paper for improving solar cell efficiency by 30%; (3) a battery and a supercapacitor out of wood; (4) a battery from a leaf; (5) transparent wood for energy efficient buildings; (6) solar water desalination for drinking and specifically filtering out toxic dyes. These -based emerging technologies are being commercialized through a UMD spinoff company, Inventwood LLC.


Explore further

Wood windows? Swedes develop transparent wood material for buildings and solar cells

More information: Jianwei Song et al, Processing bulk natural wood into a high-performance structural material, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/nature25476
Provided by University of Maryland
Citation: New process could make wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and cheaper (2018, February 7) retrieved 15 October 2018 from https://techxplore.com/news/2018-02-wood-strong-titanium-alloys-lighter.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
12762 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 07, 2018
All singing and dancing material. Hope it is feasible, as this would be a monumental industry disrupter. Right next to Cold Fusion.

Feb 07, 2018
So, No More Wild Fires. GOOD.
AND Prof.Hu Ptches TRANSPARENT WOOD (Like Plastic) !
http://www.invent...cts.html

Feb 07, 2018
But the full article is pay-walled, of course...
;-(

JRi
Feb 07, 2018
The second sentence in this article should have been: "Their two-step process involved the partial removal of lignin and hemicellulose from the natural wood via a boiling process in an aqueous mixture of NaOH and Na2SO3 followed by hot-pressing, leading to the total collapse of cell walls and the complete densification of the natural wood with highly aligned cellulose nanofibres."

Feb 08, 2018
Oh Turgent, I sure hope this does not turn out to be an outright crank fraud like cold fusion!

My interpretation of the event that received the misnomer of Cold Fusion.

Was a random weak nuclear decay that was fortuitously observed.

Assumptions were leaped upon pellmell and a whole lot of bombastic speechafying ensued.

T, got any of your experiments to work yet? Or, are those Men In Whitecoats preventing you from inventing your own cold fusion gizmo?

What was observed was a one in a umpteenillion years of half-life.

Now don't ever take your eyes off your testbed! Cause it could happen again at any uncertainly random time.

Feb 08, 2018
Using high temp superconductors and laser amplifiers my perpetual motion machines are proving to be an energy source. Top Secret though.

Feb 09, 2018
T, when you achieve an Apergy reaction? Please be sure to notify the rest of us.

Feb 12, 2018
Hopefully termite resistant

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more