New process to make wood as strong as steel

Scientists have discovered an inexpensive way to make wood over 10 times stronger and tougher than before, which could be used in cars, airplanes and buildings. “This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher,” said Liangbing Hu from University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) in the US.

“This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It’s also comparable to carbon fibre, but much less expensive,” said Hu, who led the research published in the journal Nature. This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings – any application where steel is used, researchers said.

“It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature,” said Teng Li, associate professor at UMD’s Clark School. His team measured the dense wood’s mechanical properties. “It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter. It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and moulded at the beginning of the process,” said Li.

The team also tested the new wood material and natural wood by shooting bullet-like projectiles at it. The projectile blew straight through the natural wood. The fully treated wood stopped the projectile partway through. “Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing
but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings,” Hu said.

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