Wish we’d thought of that: Optically transparent wood

Photo: Peter Larsson
Flex your suspension of disbelief muscles for a moment and picture this: Wooden Coca Cola bottles.

Now before you shriek “impossible!” know this: As we speak, those wood-loving Swedes are working on that very thing.

Researchers at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology have just published a piece in the American Chemical Society journal, Biomacromolecules, that says they have developed a new optically transparent wood material that’s suitable for large-scale production.

“Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it's a low-cost, readily available and renewable resource,” says Lars Berglund, a professor at Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH. 

Image: Lars Berglund

Berglund says that the wood will be suitable for windows and semi-transparent facades, allowing light to enter but still maintaining a modicum of privacy for the occupant. 

The transparent wood is created by chemically removing the lignin, a component of the cell walls, from the wood.

“When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white. But because wood isn't not naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring,” he says.

And the applications are almost endless, Berglund says.

“No one has previously considered the possibility of creating larger transparent structures for use as solar cells and in buildings,” he says.

“Wood is by far the most used bio-based material in buildings. It's attractive that the material comes from renewable sources. It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density and low thermal conductivity.” 

Mind = blown. 

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