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Transparent wood could be new building material used for windows say scientists

Researchers have unveiled a way to make wood transparent, opening up the possibility to eventually using it as a new material for windows.

They say that it is even hardy enough to use in cars and could be used to build advanced solar panels.

Liangbing Hu, a materials scientist, and his team at the University of Maryland, were successful in removing the wood lignin molecule that makes it rigid and a dark colour. They filled the transparent cellulose cells with epoxy and engineered a form of the wood that is practically transparent and high-haze, meaning that it scatters light.

Mr Hu suggested that the latter feature could be used to make devices easier to look at and even help solar cells trap light: the light would penetrate the transparent material but the high haze would retain it where the solar panel could absorb it.

Earlier this year a team of researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm presented a similar type of see-through wood that could transform the way that buildings and solar panels are built. They confirmed that this new material could be mass-produced and is an inexpensive renewable resource.

If used to construct buildings, a transparent wood material can potentially improve the quality of indoor lighting by allowing natural light to enter through the walls. This could reduce artificial lighting costs and even be used in solar cell windows.

Researchers are saying that this new transparent wood has the potential for large-scale use. It could be used for windows to admit light while still enabling privacy. Its ‘hazy’ quality also makes it a likely asset for solar cells because its light-trapping capability can improve the efficiency of the cells.

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Professor Lars Berglund at Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH explained that transparent wood is ideal for solar cells because it was inexpensive, easy to acquire, and a renewable resource. This is especially important when it comes to using solar cells to cover large surfaces.

To create the transparent wood, researchers used chemical methods to strip lignin from commercial balsa wood samples. Lignin is a structural polymer found in the cell walls of plants, where they prevent up to 95% of light from penetrating.

This step alone, however, didn't create a material that was transparent. Professor Berglund said that removing lignin turns wood a beautiful shade of white. Since wood is not naturally transparent, the effect was achieved by doing some nanoscale tailoring.

He pointed out that no one had previously thought about creating bigger transparent structures to use as solar cells and in buildings., and confirmed that the team intended to experiment further with different types of wood.

Wood is presently the most popular ‘natural’ material used in buildings. The fact that it comes from renewable resources makes it attractive. Another source of appeal is its premium mechanical properties, which include strength, low density, toughness, and low thermal conductivity.

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