Is there no end with what we can do with wood? Researchers have tinkered with its chemistry and physical structure to make it transparent, squishy, strong as steel, filter water, and turned it into bioplastic and Styrofoam-like insulation. But they are not done coaxing it to do even more...
In the most recent engineering breakthrough, researchers have found a way to fold flat sheets of hardwood and mold into 3D shapes that are lightweight but exceptionally tough. The structures are six times stronger than the raw wood that the researchers start with, and as strong as commonly used structural materials such as aluminum alloys, reports Anthropocene Magazine.
“For the first time we’re able to mold wood in the way you mold plastic or metal,” says Liangbing Hu, director of the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland, who led the work reported in Science. “In addition to properties of a material, shape really matters.”
The work could open up brand new uses for wood in furniture, vehicles, and buildings. Plastics and aluminum are commonly used in these applications because they are strong, lightweight, and can be easily molded into various shapes.
But wood is a cheaper, more sustainable alternative, Hu says. It does not carry the environmental footprint of petroleum-based plastics and the energy burden of processing metals. In addition, it is a renewable resource that can help sequester carbon dioxide as it grows.
Video credit: Liangbing Hu
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