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News Article

Treated wood stronger than titanium

New processing approach creates wood that is 6 times lighter than steel but just as strong

Wood has been a major building material for humans since complex construction first began in earnest. However modern engineering has come to outgrow the mechanical limits of wood and now relies on stronger and tougher materials including steel and other alloys. Of course wood is now not often used in its natural form and is treated with steam, ammonia or densification. Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park sought to improve upon the current techniques used to create these denser woods and have presented the results for a new treatment process in Nature.

The process is as follows: removal of lignin and hemicellulose via boiling in a mixture of NaOH and Na2SO3. The cell walls within the wood are then fully collapsed via hot-pressing at 150F which creates a dense wood with highly-aligned and compacted cellulose fibres, crushing any holes or knots into a tightly compacted plank 5 times thinner than before. This compression allows the fibres to form hydrogen bonds, greatly increasing the strength. The treatment process is then finished off by a coat of paint. Testing of the new material included firing high speed projectiles at the wood to test ballistic resistance. Strength and toughness were found to rival that of metals-based materials commonly used for their mechanical strength including steel and titanium alloys.

Liangbing Hu of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering and the leader of the team: "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."

Teng Li, the co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at UMD's Clark School: "It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature,"

The applications of such a strong and lightweight material are seemingly boundless given that it has the possibility to replace steel in certain products. Previous synthetic materials which have a strong mechanical strength are often problematic in another way, for instance weight, environmental impact or complex production. However wood treated in this fashion is lighter, stronger and simple to produce than many other mechanically similar materials. This approach was also reported to be effective across numerous wood species meaning it could be applied to a range of easily accessible woods to widen their construction and building uses.

Liangbing Hu: “Soft woods 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,”


Read the full paper here:

Jianwei Song, Chaoji Chen, Shuze Zhu, Mingwei Zhu, Jiaqi Dai, Upamanyu Ray, Yiju Li, Yudi Kuang, Yongfeng Li, Nelson Quispe, Yonggang Yao, Amy Gong, Ulrich H. Leiste, Hugh A. Bruck, J. Y. Zhu, Azhar Vellore, Heng Li, Marilyn L. Minus, Zheng Jia, Ashlie Martini, Teng Li, Liangbing Hu. Processing bulk natural wood into a high-performance structural material. Nature, 2018; 554 (7691): 224 DOI: 10.1038/nature25476


See the original press release here:


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