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Transparent wood: the building material of the future?

When Timothée Boitouzet studied architecture in Japan, where buildings need to survive earthquakes, he realised the next smart material might be one that humans have used for thousands of years – wood.

Innovative approaches to wood-based construction materials are emerging as sustainable alternatives in the building industry. In France, Woodoo, a material science company founded by Julien Boitouzet in 2016, is at the forefront of this movement. Woodoo specializes in retrofitting timber to give it new properties, with a focus on replacing steel with wood in construction. Wood is appealing for its renewability, and using it in buildings can help sequester carbon, mitigating the construction industry's significant carbon footprint.

Woodoo's transformative process involves selectively removing wood's lignin (the substance in cell walls) and replacing it with a polymer. This augmented wood is weather-proof, more fire-resistant, three to five times stronger than traditional wood, and transparent. The transparency matches the optical properties of wood, allowing light to pass through without bending, opening up various possibilities.

One of Woodoo's applications is creating touch-sensitive, light-transmitting wooden panels for use in "tactile dashboards" in cars, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional materials. The automotive industry serves as a gateway for Woodoo to introduce its innovative wood products that are lighter and have a lower carbon footprint.

In Sweden, researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, led by Professor Lars Berglund, have been exploring the use of transparent, strong wood for engineering applications. Their approach involves removing lignin, introducing an optically-compatible polymer, and integrating other technology to expand wood's functionality. Potential applications include embedding quantum dots in wood to create energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and developing electrochromic windows that can block light when an electric current passes through them.

Furthermore, modified wood may enhance solar cell efficiency by scattering light inside the wood, allowing for better energy absorption. It can also serve as an energy storage device by using a phase-change material to absorb and release heat, contributing to improved energy management.

Challenges remain in scaling up these technologies for commercial use, but collaborations with industry partners are helping accelerate production. The future of wood-based construction materials looks promising as these innovations address sustainability and environmental concerns in the building industry.

Read the full magazine article here.

Document Details and Download

Date published
26 November 2019
Journal Magazine
Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine
Publisher (Company, Organisation)
European Commission
Research Project Title
WOODOO; WoodNanoTech
Funding Reference for Project (if applicable)
GA 968190; GA 742733
Companies mentioned (up to 8); separate by Semikolon
Woodoo; World Green Building Council; KTH Royal Institute of Technology

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