Windows and solar panels could one day be made of transparent wood

Mass produced transparent wood material could be used in windows, solar panels and buildings.
Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Researchers at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology have created a method for the mass production of transparent wood, an innovation set to replace glass in windows, solar panelling, and buildings.

"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 Lars Berglund, a professor at Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH.

Optically transparent wood has previously been developed for microscopic samples in the study of wood anatomy. But this new research introduces a way to use the material on a large scale.

"Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells since it's a low-cost, readily available and renewable resource," Berglund says. "This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells."

According to the research published in the American Chemical Society journal, Biomacromolecules, optically transparent wood is a type of wood veneer in which the lignin, a component of the cell walls, is removed chemically.

"When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white. But because wood isn't not naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring," adds Berglund.

Along with solar panelling, the transparent wood panels would be perfect for scenarios where the aim is to let light in but maintain privacy like windows and semitransparent facades, says Berglund.

The next phase of design will involve enhancing the transparency of the material and scaling up the manufacturing process.

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