Translucent Wood is an environment-friendly construction material that is obtained by treating and compressing wooden strips. During its making, modules of lignin found inside the wood are replaced by polymers to make it transparent. Compared to its alternatives, such as plastic and glass, it has more significant potential as a renewable material. It is also much lighter and equally strong as the industrial standard of lumber wood.
As wood nanotechnology is flourishing in academics and industry, Translucent Wood is paving its way to be listed as a structural material in the construction field.
Beginning of an Evolutionary Material
A commonly used material in the construction industry is wood due to its strength and availability. As scholars and researchers explored new ways to use existing materials efficiently, they experimented with wood material. In 1992, a German researcher named Siegfried Fink developed optically transparent wood in his lab. But it was during the months between 2015 and 2016 that struck a colossal jackpot into this research.
Professor Liang Bing Hu from the University of Maryland and Professor Lars Berglund from Swedish KTH University developed a method of eliminating colour from wood without compromising its strength. Realizing the benefits of Translucent wood, many start-ups began to invest in the research hoping to make this material an industrial standard in the future.
An Imminent Arrival
The building sector consumes one-third of the world’s energy, mainly in artificial lighting and thermal regulation. In order to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, the interiors must get well lit by natural light, which in turn reduces the use of artificial lighting. Coupled with this, using a material having excellent thermal insulation properties minimizes the consumption of air handling units. And then came the arrival of Translucent Wood into the spotlight in 2016.
The material also has low embodied energy since the energy required to set this material up is shallow. It took higher precedence in the industry as it was a material that could combat these two issues simultaneously.
Method of Production
The phenomenons of absorption and scattering must be minimized in lumber wood to make Translucent Wood. The light-absorbing components such as lignin, chlorophyll, and tanin need to be reduced to accomplish this. Lignin, in particular, is responsible for approximately 80-95% of light absorption in wood. This phenomenon can be drastically reduced with the chemical treatment of wood by removing the lignin or deactivating the chromophores within the lignin.
The primary way to manufacture Translucent Wood is to take a wooden block and place it in a bath of boiled water, sodium hydroxide, and sodium sulfite. The next step is just to let it remain soaked there for about 12 hours. This process helps in taking away the opaque stuff and leaves behind a floppy cellulose structure.
Once the cellulose gets removed, the wooden block is further bleached in a hydrogen peroxide bath. This process leaves behind bone-white wood fibers. Then we transfer the cellulose and bubble epoxy to a vacuum chamber where wood undergoes pressure variations.
The end product is treated with clear epoxy and gets absorbed by the wood fibers. When it dries up, we obtain a nearly see-through wood piece with wood grains visible on it. It takes around 10 minutes for a thin piece of wood to fully undergo this procedure, whereas a wooden log might take up to almost 24 hours.
The Perks of Translucent Wood
Translucent Wood roofs can be designed to provide more comfortable and uniform illumination compared to standard glass. In addition, panels built from this material have better thermal insulation and lower density than the conventional material. Translucent Wood is used in various locations of the facade where light needs to get diffused into the interiors of the building.
Additionally, its transparency and rigid characteristics make it viable to be used as a light-diffusing structural material whose application comes under photovoltaic devices such as solar cells and electrochromic devices.
The Emergence of New Technologies
One of the common examples we see where Translucent Wood gets used is in the window panels as a replacement for glass. A few products use Translucent Wood as their primary material and stand out from the typical crowd in the current market. A light-emitting wood panel named Lumes was installed by DesignInc architects in the Cabrini Hospital in Australia. Light patterns are emitted into the wood panels, which helps invoke peace and calmness in the hospital’s patients and staff.
Similarly, Luminoso is a Translucent wood product that combines light-transmitting fiber optics, allowing light to penetrate through. Another company, Woodoo, is working on making touch-sensitive wooden panels for the automotive industry using Translucent Wood.
The Road Ahead
Since the global population is expected to rise to 8.2 billion by the year 2030, numerous governmental bodies of different countries are planning to build homes to cater to the needs of the rising population. Coupled with this, according to the FAO reports of the United Nations, worldwide sales of wood-related products such as fine wood are increased by 11% each year.
As the world is moving towards sustainability, Translucent Wood will be a crucial player in the market. Architects and designers will begin to implement this as a standard material in their designs in the years to come.
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