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Transparent Wood Could Be the Window of the Future

Posted by Diane Banegas (ret) and posted by Robert Westover, Office of Communication, USDA Forest Service in Forestry
Oct 01, 2020
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

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Comments

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?

Dennis
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?

MICHAEL SPEICHER
Oct 05, 2020

Very interesting and great research.

Mike
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?