While some musicians and most woodworkers can spend hours discussing the physical attributes of wood, the rest of us find the subject somewhat mundane. Wood, though, is enjoying a bit of renewed interest thanks to a research team who have found a way to make wood that’s so strong it can stop bullets.
This new super wood is being called, originally enough, “super wood.” We’ll cut the scientists who created it some slack, though. They created wood that’s as strong as titanium; so what if they missed a golden opportunity to name it.
The team from the University of Maryland are taking a natural material and making it ten times tougher. Their chemical treatments may soon take soft woods, like pine, and make these fast-growing trees much more useful.
“This new way to treat wood makes it twelve times stronger than natural wood and ten times tougher,” says Liangbing Hu, head of the research team said in a press release. “This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It’s also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive.”
Popular Mechanics explains the science behind the concept. “One of the things that makes wood wood is a polymer known as lignin which forms support structures in trees and plants. The second most abundant naturally-occurring polymer on Earth, lignin is what makes wood rigid and brown. Somewhat counterintuitively, Hu and his team removed the wood’s lignin polymers in order to make their wood even stronger.”
With the lignin removed, the team simply compressed what was left. The remaining cellulose packs tightly. Imperfections in the wood, like knots, are crushed. When heated, the remaining fibers form hydrogen bonds.
The scientists say this is like “a crowd of people who can’t budge–who are also holding hands.”
“This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings – any application where steel is used,” Hu says.
It remains to be seen how well this new super wood will work with tools. There are many very dense, very hard woods. Most are heavy and exceptionally hard on saw blades. They also grow slowly.
The new super wood, though, can reportedly be molded before it is fully cured.
“It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood,” says research team co-leader Teng Li. “It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.”
So when will you be able to pop down to the old Home Depot and pick some up? Not for a while. They’re still in the early stages, but the future looks bright.