Mental Floss

Transparent Wood Could One Day Replace Glass Windows

Anna Green
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
KTH Royal Institute of Technology / KTH Royal Institute of Technology

A group of researchers from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology have come up with a new building material that’s straight out of an eco-friendly sci-fi novel: transparent wood. Designed with mass production in mind, the surreal material could one day be used to build windows, semi-see-through facades, and solar panels.

In the past, scientists have developed transparent wood in order to better study the material on the molecular level. But the KTH research, which was published this month in the journal Biomacromolecules, marks the first time transparent wood has been developed for large-scale architectural use. In order to make the wood optically transparent, researchers chemically removed lignin,—an organic polymer that gives the cell walls of plants rigidity. Lignin is light absorbing and naturally brown in color.

"When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white,” researcher Lars Berglund said in a press release. “But because wood isn't not naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring.”

Researchers believe transparent wood could serve as a versatile, eco-friendly building material. Since wood is an affordable, sustainable resource—at least when properly managed—creating a transparent version of the already popular building material could be revolutionary.

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