A research team from the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland (UMD) produced a material that might be the new plastic, only eco-friendly: Moldable wood!
Despite its flexibility, once dried, the new material is about six times stronger than the raw wood it is made of and somewhat lighter! So, how does an otherwise relatively brittle material such as hardwood acquire mechanical properties that make it moldable?
The research team used the process of cell wall hardwood engineering dubbed “water-shock” to change the wood. It goes as follows:
- Firstly, they extracted the organic polymer responsible for the strength of the walls of wood cells, i.e., lignin. Without it, the wood becomes softer.
- Then, all the moisture from the wood is evaporated to make fibers and vessels close.
- The final process is rehydrating the wood with water shocks to make it moldable.
This way, the wood can be used for making 3D structures without it cracking or breaking. What’s more, after drying, it maintains the strength and light weight akin to aluminum alloys used today.
According to professor Liangbing Hu — the project lead – the best part of this invention is that wood is a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The production of wood has a significantly smaller environmental footprint than that of plastic and metals.
This is far from the only time engineers have tried to transform wood into a metal or plastic-like material in terms of formability. Up until this point, however, there were no successes.
Given its natural origin and attractive appearance, it’s not hard to imagine the revolution this material can make in every field. Moldable wood is so versatile that, basically, it can make up almost anything, from a 3D kitchen-wall decor to stylish home office desk to anything else we currently make from plastic or aluminum. According to experts, a wooden revolution might be underway.