In news that’s sure to thrill architects and carpenters around the world, researchers at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology have reportedly developed a new type of wood material that is visibly transparent. That’s right; your windows and solar panels might soon be made of wood, or –depending on the way you look at it– the wooden walls of buildings may turn into windows and transparent solar panels.
To create this optically transparent wood material (which technically isn’t 100 percent wood) The researchers on the KTH team used a chemical process to remove the wood’s naturally occurring lignin, which is a component of the wood’s cell walls. Removing the lignin creates a sort of bleached white wood color, which the team then makes clearer with a bit of tinkering and nanoscale engineering. The result is a wood veneer whose porous surface is filled with a transparent polymer — which,
In the near future, the wood could be used to make windows or even a sort of privacy screen that would let in light but remain somewhat opaque. Researchers also believe the wood material could be used to make transparent solar cells in an affordable way that’s easier on both developers’ pockets and the environment. “Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it’s a low-cost, readily available, and renewable resource. This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells,” said Lars Berglund, a professor at KTH’s Wallenberg Wood Science Center.
Transparent wood material has been developed in the past for lab tests and experiments on a microscopic scale, but this new variety is better suited for mass production. Researchers behind the material believe that using transparent wood is a sustainable way to make a naturally strong and durable resource pull double duty in building exteriors.