UMD Researchers Use Wood in Various Applications

University of Maryland researchers are investigating several innovative applications such as a nearly transparent wood that replaces lignin with a clear epoxy. Photo courtesy of John T. Consoli/Maryland Today.

Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) (College Park, Maryland, USA) have recently developed several innovative variations on one of nature’s most sustainable materials, wood. These new applications are being readied for market by a UMD spinoff company known as InventWood.

This research is led by Liangbing “Bing” Hu, a materials science and engineering professor at UMD and director of the school’s Center for Materials Innovation. With his expertise in nanomaterials, Hu is able to identify materials with special characteristics such as ultrastrength or superconductivity based on their microscopic structure.

“Sustainability and environmental protection convinced me more and more to pursue this,” says Wu. “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.”

The new wood-based applications Hu’s team have developed include the following:

  • A nearly transparent wood that replaces its lignin—a natural “glue” that holds cells together—with clear epoxy, resulting in a beautiful building material that retains its wood grain and admits light like frosted glass, while also exhibiting improved insulation properties. 
  • A “super wood” that is stronger than steel at one-sixth the weight and is formed by removing lignin and compressing the remaining product under extreme pressure to create a rust-free structural material. 
  • A wood variant that transforms its typically rigid structure to jelly so that it rebounds like a superball and that may have potential applications as a shock absorber. 
  • A specially processed basswood that turns seawater to drinking water by floating inside a solar evaporator to absorb saltwater through its vascular structure. 
  • A radiative cooling wood that is pure white in the visual light spectrum so that it doesn’t soak up the sun on building roofs, but is also pure black in the invisible infrared spectrum in order to help heat radiate back into outer space. 

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

Source: Maryland Today,