Windows and solar panels could be made of wood in the future – one of the best and cheapest building materials, according Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology. KTH researchers originally developed optically transparent wood for “microscopic samples in the study of wood anatomy”. However, the new transparent wood material is also suitable for mass production.
A KTH press release quotes Lars Berglund, professor at the institute’s Wallenberg Wood Science Center saying “Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells, since it’s a low-cost, readily available and renewable resource. This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells.”
According to Mr Berglund, transparent wood panels can also be used for windows, and semi-transparent facades, when the idea is to let light in but maintain privacy.
The optically transparent wood is produced by chemically removing the lignin, a component of the cell walls. This makes the wood “beautifully white” but not yet transparent, according to KTH. Transparency is achieved through “nanoscale tailoring”, as a part of which “the white porous veneer substrate is impregnated with a transparent polymer and the optical properties of the two are then matched”.
Mr Berglund is now planning to work on enhancing the transparency of the wood material and on scaling up the production process. He also plans to experiment with different types of wood.
“Wood is by far the most used bio-based material in buildings. It’s attractive that the material comes from renewable sources. It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density and low thermal conductivity”, says Mr Berglund.