Wood, one of the oldest architectural and furnishing materials, is carving out a growing role even today, thanks to constant research in the field of nanomaterials.
The team of 22 engineers from the University of Maryland (USA) designed and manufactured "super wood", the chemical evolution of natural material
"It's both strong and tough, a combination that isn't usually found in nature" said team leader Teng Li.
The research team was led by two scientific references: professors Liangbing Hu and Teng Li. Liangbing Hu's research focuses on the field of nanomaterials and nanostructures while Teng Li's research focuses mainly on the mechanics of sustainable materials and nanoelectronics.
Liangbing Hu e Teng Li – courtesy of University of Maryland
The team measured the mechanical properties of super wood: "Strong as steel, but six times lighter. It can also be folded and shaped at the start of the process."
This innovative material is the result of years of study on the natural nanotechnology of wooden fibers.
The process begins with the removal of lignin (i.e. the chemical-type polyphenolic compound to which both the stiffness and the brown coloring of the timber is attributable), followed by the wood being compressed at a temperature of 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Super Legno” – processo di ottenimento del legno densificato pressato – courtesy of Nature
In this way the cellulose fibers become very compact and any defects in the wood, such as holes or knots, are compressed together.
This process causes the wood fibers to be compressed so tightly that they form strong hydrogen bonds.
Compression makes the wood five times thinner than its original size. The new process therefore makes wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and less expensive. The treatment ends by giving the wood a coat of paint.
"Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings" said Hu.
In addition, thanks to its properties, super wood could also replace steel in various application areas such as in the automotive sector.