Researchers claim to make wood that is tougher than steel

Daniel Sims

Posts: 168   +9
Staff
WTF?! Scientists from the University of Maryland recently published a paper explaining how they can make wooden products at least as tough as steel. This "Hardened Wood" (HW) could be a cheaper, more renewable alternative to steel.

The article first appeared last week in an issue of the science journal "Matter." The original article is behind a paywall but Oddity Central and a couple YouTube videos summarize the main points. The researchers demonstrate their method with two examples: a wooden knife they say is three times shaper than a steel knife and cuts through steak just as well, and a rust-proof wooden nail that can be easily hammered through three solid boards.

The process works by removing certain elements from the wood through chemical treatment, and then increasing its density. The researchers say this can increase the wood's hardness by 23 times.

The study's author, Teng Li, says wood is mainly made of cellulose, which actually has a higher strength-to-density ratio than things like ceramics, metals, or polymers. The problem, according to Li, is that the cellulose only makes up about half of wood, the rest being the weaker components hemicellulose and lignin.

The process of making HW involves removing the weaker elements, like lignin (which is called delignification), then applying pressure to remove any water density. After this, the wood can be carved and polished into any shape. It can also be treated with mineral oil to reduce water absorption, extending its lifetime.

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elementalSG

Posts: 218   +360
Watching TV architecture and building shows such as Grand Designs and how wood is now being processed to become super strong to build new houses and buildings (where steel and concrete may have been needed in the past), it's cool to see this type of technology is now making it into smaller scale items too with such a renewable resource like wood.
 

psycros

Posts: 3,709   +4,693
"A cheaper, renewable alternative?"

I thought we were killing the earth by using trees.

If this tech becomes viable then timber will be harvested even quicker and the environmentalists will cry even louder. We should focus on sucking up those gigantic plastic trash islands (thanks, Asia) and making construction blocks out of them. Giant Legos, if you will.
 

Guberian

Posts: 104   +130
The environmental cost of metal extraction could somewhat be mitigated by this but this is replacing one problem with another unless they can figure out some way to get wood that doesn't involve chopping downs lots of trees.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,654   +6,442
Maybe my sarcasm meter is broken, but, fun fact, there are more trees growing in North America now than when Columbus arrived.
Your statement is perhaps true. But, it illustrates how little you actually know about woods, their properties, what different woods are used for, and their growth cycles.

Sure we probably farm 100,000,000 Canadian balsam trees a year to kill for Christmas. but that does squat to replace old growth forests.

You actually have to poach old growth mahogany (Swietenia) species) for furniture, since it's damned near extinct.

"Today, all species of Swietenia grown in their native locations are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected.

Then there's the "coast redwood" Sequoia sempervirens:

About 82 percent of the remaining ancient coast redwood forests is protected in parks and reserves; more than 90 percent of giant sequoia forests is protected ...
The Threats to the Redwoods · ‎Coast Redwoods · ‎Redwood Forest Facts

Not that you'd be interested, but here's the current CITES listing of protected species:
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,654   +6,442
Scientists from the University of Maryland recently published a paper explaining how they can make wooden products at least as tough as steel. This "Hardened Wood" (HW) could be a cheaper, more renewable alternative to steel.
FWIW, Douglas fir, is already considered to have the load bearing capacity of some mild steels. (By weight obviously, not by cross section). Some building codes require it specifically for studs, joists, and rafter material.

All of this is why you'll see, "SPF"(spruce, pine, fir) stamped on the 2 x 4s at home depot.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,654   +6,442
What's the biodegradability of these engineered woods? What about recycling?
I'm not sure that matters if you're going to use them for, (ostensibly permanent purposes, especially in the construction industry.
It's a matter of how the materials are tasked. For example composites are great for decking. (plastics are involved). But plastics for supermarket disposal bags, not so much. Polystyrene foam is the (almost),absolute worst material for anything, as it is currently considered "unrecycable" Oddly, that includes standard DVD cases, which are the same material.

Supermarket bags wouldn't be a problem at all, if people weren't to lazy to take them back to the store. Or so arrogant they just throw them all over the street.

(almost) Polystyrene foam woks well as wall insulation, since it's a permanent install. At least until the next "bomb cyclone" comes along
 
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seeprime

Posts: 628   +804
What's the biodegradability of these engineered woods? What about recycling?
Since termites eat cellulose, I presume that some chemical additives, such as flexible urethane, to surround the cellulose after removal of lignin and cellulose, are injected prior to pressurization forming, to make the hardened wood unpalatable to bugs. The resultant wood may even withstand a severe earthquake better than a concrete/metal building.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,654   +6,442
Since termites eat cellulose, I presume that some chemical additives, such as flexible urethane, to surround the cellulose after removal of lignin and cellulose, are injected prior to pressurization forming, to make the hardened wood unpalatable to bugs. The resultant wood may even withstand a severe earthquake better than a concrete/metal building.
In case you're interested:

The primary ingredients of all composite decking are plastic and wood. Many times, both the plastic and the wood used to make composite decking have been sourced from recycled materials, making composite decking a particularly eco-friendly choice.


You're suggesting the gentleman is, "reinventing the wheel", which to some extent, he may well be. (At the very least, "making the wheel rounder") :rolleyes:
 

CBTex

Posts: 134   +264
Your statement is perhaps true. But, it illustrates how little you actually know about woods, their properties, what different woods are used for, and their growth cycles.

Sure we probably farm 100,000,000 Canadian balsam trees a year to kill for Christmas. but that does squat to replace old growth forests.

You actually have to poach old growth mahogany (Swietenia) species) for furniture, since it's damned near extinct.

"Today, all species of Swietenia grown in their native locations are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected.

Then there's the "coast redwood" Sequoia sempervirens:

About 82 percent of the remaining ancient coast redwood forests is protected in parks and reserves; more than 90 percent of giant sequoia forests is protected ...
The Threats to the Redwoods · ‎Coast Redwoods · ‎Redwood Forest Facts

Not that you'd be interested, but here's the current CITES listing of protected species:

Presumptuous much?

I too support the protection of old growth forests. We have enough land to sustainably use wooden products without timbering what precious old growth forests remain. I didn't see anywhere in the article that said old growth lumber was needed for this process. I think the prospect of using sustainable materials in place of more resource intensive materials like steel is, at least, interesting.

Regardless, forest growth has exceeded harvest in the United States since the 1940's. Source A trend I think both you and I hope continues and, by all accounts, probably will.

Also, username checks out...
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 659   +502
Even paper can be incredible sharp .
Wooden knifes are already here - so imagine they are making super super ones.

It's great to see new uses for wood , wool and other natural materials .
Building offices with low combustibility wood ( one of it's weaknesses )

Again sustainability - is the key
Depleting sphagnum moss, kelp forests and other biomes is not the way to go

And no- frozen poop knives do not work
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,654   +6,442
Also, username checks out...
It's supposed to. Reasonably speaking, at least I'm being upfront about it. Nor is it some self aggrandizing gamer boy crap that passes itself off as an alias around these parts.

Yes, we farm plenty of trees, and plenty of species are fast growing. However, when you have a**holes like #45, releasing federal lands for a variety of destructive purposes, Along with some mutt in Brazil encouraging burning the Amazon rain forest down I wouldn't get too comfortable about an, "all is copacetic with our forests", outlook..

Your statement, "we have more trees than when Columbus arrived", does speak to a simple head count, which is, (I think you might agree), a massive oversimplification or completely out of context..

 
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merikafyeah

Posts: 268   +217
I wonder if you can make usable firearms out of this material. Also, would it have the flexibility of sheet metal when made thin or would it be more brittle like glass? Wouldn't mind a PC case made out of this stuff.
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 1,975   +2,305
TechSpot Elite
Build with wood and grow new trees to replace that wood using forestry management (as the US has been doing for a century now) and you have a nice one-way carbon sink. If you care about that kind of stuff.
 

Alex1105

Posts: 24   +20
"could be a cheaper..." this is presumptuous at best imho.
I'm all in for making wood a better and more durable material, but I'm more concerned for the future generations to be able to live in maybe 100 years from now, instead of the damn knife or nails surviving until then. And besides our economy functions because everything is made to break down and be replaced in a set amount of time. Having things that last more will demand a price increase or the company that makes them will probably disappear soon enough.
 

RudyBob

Posts: 307   +297
Maybe my sarcasm meter is broken, but, fun fact, there are more trees growing in North America now than when Columbus arrived.
Yep. It's a crop and like all crops they want sustainability but so many still like to say" Save a tree" Like we are cutting down redwoods for toothpicks
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 3,850   +1,911
Wood is the new cool:

I'm still amused at the amount of tech that gets batted down so often here in the comments.
It's quite impressive. I imagined people at least being open minded, but nope. Just conspiracies and wild assumptions day after day.
 
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Wereweeb

Posts: 70   +137
Good substitute for disposable plastic cutlery.

As for "stronger than steel" - stronger in what sense? Tensile strength? Compressive strength? Impact strength? Hardness? And cellulose IS a polymer.