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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