Skip to main content

Transparent Wood Could Be the Window of the Future

Posted by Amy Androff, Forest Products Laboratory and posted by Robert Westover, Office of Communication, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Jul 29, 2021
The piece of glass made from wood
The piece of glass in the above photo was made from wood. Research work at the Forest Products Lab on using wood to create transparent windows is making great strides. (Photo USDA Forest Service)

Could looking through trees be the view to a greener future? Trees replacing the clear pane glass in your windows is not a work of science fiction. It’s happening now.

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado, have developed a transparent wood material that may be the window of tomorrow. Researchers found that transparent wood has the potential to outperform glass currently used in construction in nearly every way.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Advanced Functional Materials in their paper, “A Clear, Strong, and Thermally Insulated Transparent Wood for Energy Efficient Windows.”

While glass is the most common material used in window construction it comes with a costly economic and ecological price.

Heat easily transfers through glass, especially single pane, and amounts to higher energy bills when it escapes during cold weather and pours in when it’s warm. Glass production in construction also comes with a heavy carbon footprint. Manufacturing emissions are approximately 25,000 metric tons per year.

Now, transparent wood is emerging as one of the most promising materials of the future.

Transparent wood is created when wood from the fast-growing, low-density balsa tree is treated to a room temperature, oxidizing bath that bleaches it of nearly all visibility. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), creating a product that is virtually transparent.

The natural cellulose in its wood structure and energy-absorbing polymer filler in transparent wood means that it is far more durable and lighter than glass. It can withstand much stronger impacts than glass and, unlike glass, it bends or splinters instead of shattering.

Switching to transparent wood could prove to be cost efficient as well. It is approximately five times more thermally efficient than glass, cutting energy costs. It is made from a sustainable, renewable resource with low carbon emissions. It’s also compatible with existing industrial processing equipment, making the transition into manufacturing an easy prospect.

With all of these potential benefits for consumers, manufacturing and the environment, the case for transparent wood couldn’t be…clearer.

Category/Topic: Forestry

Write a Response

CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Amanda Gunn
Oct 01, 2020

That is impressive! Great job, researchers!!

Alex McGrath
Oct 02, 2020

When will clear glass be available for home builders?

Oct 03, 2020

Curious how reusable the material is, can old ‘glass’ be reused for new instead of waste pile? That would make it a real winner.

Dominic Brown
Oct 03, 2020

25,000 tonnes CO2e per year? That sounds implausibly low for global glass production, but quite high for any individual factory. What portion of overall glass-industry emissions does that represent? (I did read the paper; it doesn’t specify which 2011 EPA publication was the source of the figure—and if it’s supposed to be for the whole USA, I still think it sounds implausibly low.)

William J. Jackson
Oct 04, 2020

The raw materials for glass are basically cheap, but making glass is energetically costly, with a high barrier to entry. This process appears to have a lower cost of entry, on the basis of thin sheets of balso wood. Details of the process of caustic oxidation may well be low cost as well. Filling the fibers with monomer that is then cross linked, or with a molten low viscosity thermoplastic polymer indicates that this may well be competitive with acrylic or ABS sheets. I wonder what the tensile properties are? I wonder if this will be open sourced or sold on an extort the public sole licencee agreement?

Oct 05, 2020

Very interesting and great research.

Oct 05, 2020

When will it be commercially available?

benjamin connell
Oct 07, 2020

Really interesting!

I'd be interested to know about it's sound transmission properties. Low noise transmission is a selling point of double glazing. Maybe it would be worth making double wood panels for super heat and noise insulation?

Mia Nicole B. Ebora
Oct 10, 2020

Hoping that it would be commercially available soon, since, as what stated in here, it is more ecofriendly and less price than the glass. I hope that it will less cost in my country though.

Suresh Bahety
Oct 12, 2020

Really Impressive . It will Transform the mechanism in Future. Benefits of Tree will further go to new heights.

Brian Busch
Oct 12, 2020

Poly Vinyl Alcohol (PVA) is highly water-soluble. It can be cross-linked to reduce solubility, but that doesn't last on the time-scale of decades (as far as I know). How fast will my transparent-wood windows dissolve in the rain?

Nicholas Uchôa
Oct 12, 2020

Transparent wood could be more flexible and durable but if some day the industry starts to use that material then they will need to make sure to plant a lot and not destroy the forests to have more lands to grow the tree. It will have to be something organized

Ian Chapman
Oct 24, 2020

What a brilliant idea! Could car windscreens be made of this?

Chandrasekhar p
Dec 01, 2020

A big salute to the scientists & they are working for a better future.

Robert Terrell
Jan 05, 2021

Very informative and interesting article. Hopefully it will become commercially available in the near future.

Ken Oles
Jan 05, 2021

I haven’t seen anything about longevity.. how long before it begins to deteriorate.

Teresa Stelman
Jan 05, 2021

This is way awesome. Is there any way I could get a sample? I would like to include this in my wood presentations on the Stanislaus NF.

Dave S
Jan 06, 2021

I’m skeptical about the durability of this product.

Gerardo Rolon
Jan 06, 2021

This is amazing. With this information, I have so many other questions. Anyway we can have the researchers email?

Hannah Williams
Jan 09, 2021

Amazing Find! I'm Grateful for your Work! Am I defeated seeing I'm reluctant to really get excited seeing historically how difficult it's been for forward, highly sustainable, environmentally and resource concerned products to enter the textile industry? (not a rhetorical question if anyone doesn't mind ty)

Mark Badon
Feb 18, 2021

How long till we see it in high production?

Keymon Thompson
Mar 15, 2021

It could help the environment and it could resist heat better

Mar 29, 2021

I am interested in manufacturing wooden windows instead of glass.Can I can get a project report for the same on small scale basis.

Mark G
Dec 19, 2021

I wanna see government grants for further development at the consumer level. And tax credits at the construction and consumer level for building with it.

Jun 19, 2022

Does the PVA stabilize it to prevent expanding, contracting, and warping of the wood? What about cleaning the surface? Will it scratch and scuff easier than glass? Could it be made into plywood before applying the PVA to increase strength even more? Just some thoughts...