Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a method that makes wood 10 times stronger and tougher than steel. This so-called “Superwood” makes it tougher than many titanium alloys and is even comparable to carbon fibre and is less expensive. The new Superwood can be a natural alternative and can very well be used in cars, aeroplanes buildings or anywhere where titanium or steel is used.
The research team is lead by Liangbing Hu, Teng Li, the co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at UMD’s Clark School.
How is the Superwood made?
It is made in a two-step process, In the first step, researchers boil the samples of wood in a watery mixture containing sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite. This facilitates the removal of lignin and hemicellulose from the material. In the next step, the wood is hot pressed and this makes the cell walls to collapse resulting in the formation of aligned cellulose nanofibres. The final outcome is the wood which is denser than its counterparts.
“This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher,” says Hu. “The team even tested the new Superwood and natural wood by firing projectiles. As expected the projectiles easily passed through the natural wood. Bu the Superwood is able to stop the projectiles halfway through.
“Softwoods 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.
Researchers believe the new material could pave the way for the development of lightweight, high-performance structural materials. They further say that the new process can be applied to different types of wood and can treat the bulk amount of material at a time. Further, it is also possible to mould and bend the wood into desired shapes at the beginning of the process.