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Brief Published: 20 Mar 2018

'Super' Wood is Stronger than Steel

Before and after treatment: 'super' wood is stronger than steel

Engineers at the University of Maryland in the US have developed a technique that significantly increases the strength of wood – making it even stronger than many titanium alloys. The resulting natural material could be used to replace steel in projects such as cars, aeroplanes and buildings. 

The process involves removing the wood’s lignin – the organic polymer that makes wood rigid – and compressing the leftover material under a mild heat, causing the cellulose fibres to become tightly compact. As a result, the wood fibres form strong hydrogen bonds, which increases its strength while making it thinner and lighter than its original form.

The team believe this method could lead to the production of lightweight, high-performance structural materials made out of various species of wood. “Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings,” said research leader Liangbing Hu.

With increasing concerns over diminishing resources and ecological footprints, innovative new approaches to existing natural materials are more important than ever, especially for large-scale applications such as in the construction industry. 

See CMF Industry View: Architecture & Spaces and Carbon-Negative Building Material Made of CO2 for more eco-conscious building materials. For more on engineered wood and other materials addressing the need for strength and durability, see Super Materials: New Innovations.