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.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

The best indie games on Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch's portability makes indies feel at home on the platform. Luckily, there are plenty of great titles to choose from. Here are our picks for the best Nintendo Switch indie games.
Computing

Surface Go vs. Surface Pro

The Surface Go vs. Surface Pro — which is better? While the price might make the choice easy, a deeper dive into what each offers makes it a closer race than you might assume. Here's what you need to know to buy the best.
Gaming

How to record a gameplay video on Xbox One

The current generation of consoles makes it easier than ever to share your gaming highlights with the world. Here's a quick guide on how you can record a gameplay video on Xbox One.
Computing

How to make a GIF from a YouTube video

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier than ever, but choosing the right tool to use isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our three favorite tools.
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures a beautiful cosmic jellyfish made of glowing gas

A new image from Hubble might look like a deep-space jellyfish, but it's not a sign of extraterrestrial life - in fact, it's a planetary nebula called NGC 2022, located in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe makes a second orbit of the sun, captures solar wind on video

The Parker Solar Probe, launched last year, has completed its second orbit around the sun. To celebrate, the team responsible for the probe has released a video showing solar winds in action.
Cars

Starman on Tesla Roadster makes first orbit around sun, braces for loneliness

Starman and his Tesla Roadster, sent by SpaceX to outer space last year, have completed their first orbit around the sun. The people on Earth may be able to catch a glimpse of the cherry-red electric vehicle on November 2020.
Emerging Tech

Wreckage, reefs, and robots: The high-tech quest to find Amelia Earhart’s plane

Over 80 years ago, American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared while trying to fly around the world. Now an autonomous water-based robot could help find some answers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Bernie Sanders calls for a ban on police use of facial recognition

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for a complete ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement as part of the new criminal justice reform plan he introduced this weekend.