Swedish researchers have developed a transparent wood-based material that could be used in future to make biodegradable windows and photovoltaic panels.
To make the wood-based glass a reality, the research team from Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology chemically removed lignin from the cell walls of the wood.
"Wood is by far the most used bio-based material in buildings,” said Lars Berglund, professor at Wallenberg Wood Science Centre at KTH. “It's attractive that the material comes from renewable sources. It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density and low thermal conductivity."
After removing the lignin, the researchers had wood which was completely white. With some additional nanoscale tailoring, they were able to get from white to transparent.
On a microscopic scale, transparent wood has been created previously but the current project is the first demonstrating that the material could be suitable for large-scale production, paving the way for practical applications.
"No one has previously considered the possibility of creating larger transparent structures for use as solar cells and in buildings," said Berglund.
"Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it's a low-cost, readily available and renewable resource. This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells."
The material, described in an article in the American Chemical Society Journal, could also be used to make windows and semitransparent facades that would allow light in but protect privacy of the inhabitants.
The team is now trying to enhance transparency of the material and scale up the manufacturing process.
"We also intend to work further with different types of wood," Berglund added.
The project is financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.