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A wood 12 times stronger than natural wood and stronger than many titanium alloys.
It is the “supermadera”, developed by engineers from the University of Maryland , in the United States, who found a way to treat the wood that makes it as strong as steel.
“We found a promising solution in the search for sustainable, high-performance materials,” Liangbing Hu, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland and leader of the team that developed the new material, told BBC .
“This type of wood could be used in cars, planes, buildings and any application where steel is used.”
The process to transform a wood into a supermadera has two steps, according to Hu.
“The first step is a chemical treatment that partially extracts the lignin (the glue between the wood cells),” he said.
“And the second step is the compression of the wood with heat at 100 degrees Celsius , which reduces its thickness by about 80%.”
This process allows, according to Hu, “the complete collapse of any vacuum or space, which reduces the defects in the wood and significantly increases its resistance.”
Limit of lignin
A key aspect of the process, according to its inventors, is that the extraction of the lignin must be partial.
Lignin is the second most common polymer on the planet , after cellulose.
“If we compressed the wood with heat without the partial extraction of lignin, the densification of the wood would be very limited and would leave many spaces between the collapsed cell walls,” Hu said.
“And if we compressed the wood after completely extracting the lignin, the whole structure would collapse.”
“But the process of partial removal of the lignin that we invented allows a complete densification without the collapse of the structure”.
Scientists at the University of Maryland tested the material by shooting bullet-like steel projectiles at it .
The projectile went through the natural wood, but the treated wood stopped the projectile halfway .
“The supermadera is strong as steel, but six times lighter ,” Hu told BBC World.
He and his colleagues dealt with the new system three types of hardwoods (linden, oak and poplar) and three soft woods (cedar and pine species).
“The treatment works with both hard and soft woods and significantly increases its strength and hardness at the same time,” Hu said.
These two properties “are excluded in most engineering materials, but this process showed that it is possible to achieve strength and hardness at the same time.”
Hu says that the new wood offers, in addition to its strength and resistance, a material of low cost, abundant and whose production minimizes the use of fossil fuels that increase carbon dioxide emissions.
“Our densified wood can also be used for a long time, so it will not lead to an increase in forest destruction,” he added.
Scientists are now investigating different applications for the supermadera.
And a startup of the university itself, Inventwood LLC , works to commercialize this technology.
The study by Hu and his colleagues was published in the journal Nature.