In an era of glass and steel construction, wood may seem old-school. But now researchers say they have given timber a makeover to produce a material that is not only sturdy, but also transparent and able to store and release heat.
The researchers say the material could be used in the construction of energy-efficient homes, and that they hope to develop a biodegradable version to increase its eco-friendly credentials as an alternative to plastic, glass or even cement.
Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has built on the research from three years ago — when they first discovered how to make transparent wood — by incorporating a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG) into the process.
PEG gives transparent wood the ability to absorb and release heat — and this could make heating and cooling future homes far less costly.
During a sunny day, the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than outside.
And at night, the reverse occurs — the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so that you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.
PEG is phase-change material that starts as a solid and then melts at a certain temperature, at which point it begins storing heat. The melting temperature can be adjusted by changing the type of PEG used.
By encapsulating the PEG within the transparent wood in a way that prevents it from leaking out when liquid, the researchers created a sturdy building material that they believe could help cut the cost of heating and cooling homes in the future.
A 100g of this transparent wood material with the [polyethylene glycol] inside, can absorb up to 8,000 of heat, which corresponds to basically what a 1W [bulb] could produce in two hours.
However, there is plenty of work still to be done – including replacing the acrylic with a biodegradable alternative, scaling up production of the material, and carrying out computer models of buildings to see how transparent wood compares with glass.
Reference- Futurism, The Guardian, KTH Royal Institute of Technology website