MD University Touts Wood Materials Projects


Researchers at the University of Maryland have been working on several innovations revolving around wood materials and applications. UMD’s Center for Materials Innovation recently released a rundown of the many projects that are being led by materials science and engineering professor Liangbing “Bing” Hu.

“Sustainability and environmental protection convinced me more and more to pursue this,” Hu said. “Wood is an abundant and renewable material, and an old material people have gained a lot of knowledge about through history. But in terms of innovation, this is not a crowded field.”


Working with nanoscale wood fibers, the researchers under Hu have developed nanocellulose-based products that are transparent, strong and light, as well as hold the ability to help keep buildings cooler.

They created this “nearly transparent wood” by replacing its lignin with a clear epoxy, according to the university, making a material that looks more like frosted glass than wood while retaining the insulation properties.

This isn’t the only “cool” project in the works, however. The research team has also developed a radiative cooling structural material that is white to the eye but black in infrared light. In testing, the material is said to have helped cool a structure by an average of 12 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, the team recently trademarked a product as “MettleWood,” which is a product that also removes the lignin, but the remaining material is compressed with high pressure, creating a wood with “super strength” This research was supposed by a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to Hu, he and his team are actively seeking partners to aid in creating actual products for commercial use.

Other Wood Developments

Most wood or timber research projects revolve around structural uses for the material, including in a study released last fall by the University of Oregon’s Institute for Health in the Built Environment, in which a team of academics and industry partners looked at how mass timber could be used in healthcare construction projects.

According to founder and director of IHBE, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, based on previous studies, the material could perform just as well, if not better, than steel, plastic, or vinyl surfaces in disease control.

“In outpatient clinics, or within a whole range of different types of health care facilities ... there is still a bias against wood,” Van Den Wymelenberg said. “There is this perception that it is harder to maintain.”

In their research, the team argues that wood products provide several sustainability benefits, including carbon sequestration, clearing forest clutter and lowering wildfire risks, among others.

While the material was under scrutiny for its porousness, research shows that while the material allows viruses and bacteria to enter those pores, they then become trapped and essentially neutralized. Woods are also reported to produce organic compounds known as terpenes, which can contribute to the low survival rate of different pathogens.

To test the theories, the research team has placed samples of mass timber in sterilized boxes where they can control the environment’s ventilation, temperature and humidity. In comparing different types of environments, the team members are able to determine microbial growth and survival rates.

“There are a lot of board-feet that can go into health care facilities, so long as we can show it’s at least equivalent to other materials, if not better, in infection control,” Van Den Wymelenberg said.

Several industry partners have signed on in support of the project, including Providence St. Joseph Health, the eighth-largest health care system in the country with 51 hospitals and 829 clinics across seven western states.


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; NA; North America; Research and development; Wood; Wood coatings

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