Metal Replacement: wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and cheaper

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:
The 'super wood' takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood

Engineers from the US University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), claim to have found a way to make wood stronger and tougher than many titanium alloys.

Research lead, Liangbing Hu, said: “This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher. This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, as it is strong and durable… It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter.

“It’s also comparable to carbon fibre, but much less expensive… It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature.”

It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood and the material can even be bent and moulded at the beginning of the process.

The team also tested the new wood material by shooting bullet-like projectiles at it, which were stopped partway through.

It means soft woods like pine or balsa, which are fast growing could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings.

The development is a promising route to the design of sustainable, environmentally-friendly lightweight but high performance structural materials, with many potential applications.

"This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings - any application where steel is used," Hu said.

The study reveals the subtle balance between hydrogen bonding and the adhesion imparted by polyphenolic compounds.

Hu's research has explored the capacities of wood's natural nanotechnology. They previously made a range of emerging technologies out of nanocellulose related materials such as super clear paper for replacing plastic; photonic paper for improving solar cell efficiency by 30%; a battery and a supercapacitor out of wood; and solar water desalination for drinking and specifically filtering out toxic dyes. These wood-based emerging technologies are being commercialized through a UMD spinoff company, Inventwood LLC.

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