Scientists have figured out how to make wood even stronger than steel

wood stronger than steel gettyimages 699214525
Lisa Sturm / EyeEm / Getty Images
Lisa Sturm / EyeEm / Getty Images

Wood is a pretty awesome material, but it’s certainly lacking the strength and toughness of other materials such as the stronger metals. That could change, however, thanks to research coming out the University of Maryland, College Park, where engineers have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger than titanium alloys.

The results mean that everyone’s favorite tree-based material could be used as an alternative to the ultra-tough likes of steel while remaining significantly lighter. Faster growing softwoods like pine and balsa could also be treated to replace some of the applications which currently require slower growing but denser woods like teak.

“We [developed] a totally new densification technique by combining chemical modification and hot-pressing,” Liangbing Hu, the leader of the research team, told Digital Trends. “Our resulting densified wood features a highly dense and laminated structure with intertwined cell walls that are fully collapsed without gaps. Most of the densified wood consists of well-aligned cellulose nanofibres, which greatly enhance hydrogen bond formation among neighboring nanofibres. The mechanical performance of the resulting densified wood is more than one order of magnitude better than that of the natural wood.”

The chemical modification Hu refers to involves partially remove lignin, the organic polymer that forms an important structural material in plants, and hemicellulose, a component in plant cell walls. The densification technique was then completed by hot-pressing to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius.

To put the new material through its paces, the team tested its resilience to bullet-like projectiles by firing at it. While the projectile was able to completely pierce natural wood, in the case of the new reinforced wood material it only penetrated part of the way through.

“We are [currently] investigating its potential integrations into multiple applications which requires the material to meet the complete performance matrix,” Hu said, concerning the next step of the project. A University of Maryland startup called “Inventwood” has been created to help commercialize the university’s advanced wood technologies, including this one.

A research paper on the work, titled “Processing bulk natural wood into a high-performance structural material,” was recently published in the journal Nature.

Product Review

Dell's classic 4K P2715Q monitor still holds up today

The Dell P2715Q might not be the most modern of 4K displays, but its IPS panel, extensive connectivity, and easily adjusted stand make it more than competitive with the newest crop of screens.
Mobile

Quindim, quiche or quesito? What will Android Q be called?

We always like to wildly speculate about the next dessert-themed name for Android, but the letter Q is making that tougher than usual. Here are our best guesses and suggestions for the full name of Android Q.
Gaming

The PlayStation 5 rumors are heating up, and the console may arrive by 2020

Recent rumors suggest the launch of the PlayStation 5 is closer than you might expect. Predictions range from 2018 to 2021, and some reports are already making definitive claims about the hardware.
Podcasts

Galaxy Note 9 hands-on, MicroLED vs. OLED, Apple hacked, Robot actor

On today's episode: We have a hands on look at Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 and what makes it different than other phones. Would you rather have an OLED, or MicroLED television? Caleb Denison will tell you what the differences are. Plus, Apple…
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here’s all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Emerging Tech

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day be used for building greenhouse-like habitats on Mars.
Emerging Tech

Engineers have made a new type of lithium battery that won’t explode

While statistically rare, the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices have been known to burst into flames. Researchers from University of Michigan have been working to change that.
Emerging Tech

Genetically engineered bacteria paint microscopic masterpieces

By engineering E. coli bacteria to respond to light, scientists at the University of Rome have guided it like tiny drones toward patterns that depict Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to dig a tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Elon Musk's Boring Company wants to build a high-speed transportation tunnel connecting Dodger Stadium to a nearby Metro station. The system would run 150-mph passenger pods between the stadium and a terminus to the west.
Emerging Tech

Watch as a ‘lifeguard drone’ rescues a swimmer struggling at sea

These days, drones are finding a range of roles in a myriad of fields. Lifeguards, for example, are making use of the drone's ability to quickly deploy flotation devices while also offering an eye in the sky to survey the scene.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? Here are the best drones on the market right now

To help you navigate the increasingly large and ever-changing landscape of consumer UAVs, here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Experiment suggests that the best robot bosses could be jerks

Researchers have been investigating how future robot bosses can coax the most productivity out of us flesh-and-blood employees. The sad answer? Quite possibly by behaving like jerks.
Emerging Tech

VR experience shows caregivers what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease

Los Angeles-based VR startup Embodied Labs has developed a virtual experience that puts users in the shoes of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia in the U.S.