Researchers Make Wood as Strong as Steel


University of Maryland, College Park engineers have developed a method that involves the compression of wood, which makes it stronger than most titanium alloys, resulting in a strong, natural material that can be used as an alternative to steel in construction, according to researchers.

Liangbing Hu, the leader of the research team, noted that the new treatment method made the wood “12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher.”

Tough as Steel

The process begins with the removal of the wood’s lignin, which is responsible for making the wood brown and rigid. The wood is then compressed at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which packs the cellulose fibers closely together. As a result, any defects are crushed together. A coat of paint is also added, to extend the treatment process.

The research team discovered that when the fibers were pressed together, they could form strong hydrogen bonds. The wood was also five times thinner than it had been originally.

To test the wood’s strength, the team shot bullet-like projectiles at it; a projectile went straight through the natural wood, but the treated wood stopped it halfway through.

“It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature,” said Teng Li, the co-leader of the team. “It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter. It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.”

According to Hu, the treated wood could be used in cars, airplanes and buildings, in “any application where steel is used.”

Hu also noted that soft, more environmentally friendly woods, like pine or balsa, could replace woods like teak in furniture and buildings.

The team’s findings were published in Nature.


Tagged categories: Building materials; North America; Program/Project Management; Renewable raw materials; Research and development; Steel; Wood

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