Metals and Alloys

Engineers Develop Titanium-strength Super Wood

07 February 2018

Researchers show the super wood that's as strong as steel. Source: University of MarylandResearchers show the super wood that's as strong as steel. Source: University of MarylandEngineers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have developed a new way to make wood that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

The treated wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher, making it a viable competitor to steel or even titanium. UMD says it is also comparable to carbon fiber but much less expensive.

"[The wood] is as strong as steel, but six times lighter,” says Teng Li, professor of mechanical engineering at UMD. “It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process."

In order to test the super wood for its toughness, researchers shot bullet-like projectiles at it. While the projectile blew straight through natural wood, the treated wood stopped the projectile partway through.

Some woods such as pine or balsa grow fast and are more environmentally friendly than other slower-growing denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings. Treated balsa or pine could replace these woods leading to benefits to the environment as well, researchers say. The super wood could also be used in cars, airplanes, buildings or anywhere else steel is currently used.

UMD researchers have previously made emerging technologies out of nanocellulose related materials, including super clean paper for replacing plastic, photonic paper for improving solar cell efficiency by 30 percent, a battery and a supercapacitor out of wood, a battery from a leaf, transparent wood for energy efficient buildings and solar water desalination for drinking and filtering out toxic dyes. These technologies are currently being commercialized through a UMD spinoff company called Inventwood LLC.

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Discussion – 3 comments

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Re: Super Wood Developed that’s as Strong as Titanium
2018-Feb-08 3:55 AM

Leaving a link to the study discussed is always a nice touch

Re: Super Wood Developed that’s as Strong as Titanium
2018-Feb-19 12:03 PM

This development certainly has great structural, and renewability, potential, but:

- What does it take to cut it to smaller sizes, ''in the field'' ?...

- Is its point-of-combustion higher, or lower, than those of common steel grades?...

- When it does burn, what toxic chemicals are released?...

- Will it stand up to termite-types of infestations?...

- How does it stand up to freeze-thaw and wet-dry types of cycles?...

- What are the projected cost estimates of bringing it to full factory production levels, in comparison to those of steel, so far?...

- What waste products result from production?...

- is it electrically neutral?...

- is it chemically compatible in long-term contact with the typical metals of other construction materials (i.e.: brackets, fixtures, screws, etc.)?...

Re: Super Wood Developed that’s as Strong as Titanium
2018-Mar-09 9:48 AM

"... Their simple, two-step process starts with boiling wood in a solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulfite (Na2SO3), a chemical treatment similar to the first step in creating the wood pulp used to make paper. This partially removes lignin and hemicellulose (natural polymers that help stiffen a plant’s cell walls)—but it largely leaves the wood’s cellulose (another natural polymer) intact, Hu says.

The second step is almost as simple as the first: Compressing the treated wood until its cell walls collapse, then maintaining that compression as it is gently heated. The pressure and heat encourage the formation of chemical bonds between large numbers of hydrogen atoms and neighboring atoms in adjacent nanofibers of cellulose, greatly strengthening the material."

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