Densified wood can compete with metal, scientists contend

Researchers say their new densified wood product can compete with steel in many applications.

February 9, 2018

A research team based at the University of Maryland says it has developed a form of treated, densified wood that “has a specific strength higher than that of most structural metals and alloys, making it a low-cost, high-performance, lightweight alternative.”

In a research paper available through the website of the scientific journal Nature, the co-authors say they have developed “a simple and effective strategy to transform bulk natural wood directly into a high-performance structural material with a more than tenfold increase in strength, toughness and ballistic resistance and with greater dimensional stability.”

Existing wood treatment techniques have already “led to the enhanced mechanical performance of natural wood,” write the scientists. They add, “However, the existing methods result in incomplete densification and lack dimensional stability, particularly in response to humid environments, and wood treated in these ways can expand and weaken.”

A key to the new process, according to a summary of the research posted by Nature, involves “partially removing lignin and hemicellulose from the wood, [which] makes it around three-times denser, with an 80 percent reduction in thickness.”