U.S. Laboratory Develops Transparent Wood

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a transparent wood that may be what it calls the "window of tomorrow." FPL, in collaboration with the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado, says the transparent wood has the potential to outperform glass currently used in construction. Transparent wood is created when wood from the fast-growing, low-density balsa tree is treated to a room temperature, oxidizing bath that bleaches it of nearly all visibility. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), creating a product that is virtually transparent. The natural cellulose in its wood structure and energy-absorbing polymer filler in transparent wood means that it is far more durable and lighter than glass. It can withstand much stronger impacts than glass and, unlike glass, it bends or splinters instead of shattering. Switching to transparent wood could prove to be cost efficient as well. It is approximately five times more thermally efficient than glass, cutting energy costs. It is made from a sustainable, renewable resource with low carbon emissions. It’s also compatible with existing industrial processing equipment, making the transition into manufacturing an easy prospect.