In the construction industry, wood may appear as an old-school material in this age of glass and steel.  

However, scientists have transformed timber into a competitive product that is not just strong, but also transparent and capable of storing and releasing heat.

This see-through wood is being considered by researchers as a possible alternative for plastic and glass in the construction of energy-efficient houses.

To create this, scientists used balsa wood and removed its lignin, a component that’s responsible for its strength and color. Acrylic is then applied to maintain the wood’s structure, replace its strength, and improve its visual properties.

In a recent study, acrylic was combined with a substance that spreads throughout the wood called polyethylene glycol. This component melts and absorbs energy when heated, but hardens and releases energy when temperatures drop. 

It is said that the material turns semi-transparent to transparent when warmed or heated by the sunlight. 

Photo courtesy of American Chemical Society.

Researchers added that this can make energy-efficient buildings because the energy amassed from the sun during the day can be consumed for indoor use at night.

Transparent wood can absorb up to 8,000 joules of heat that is equivalent to the amount that a 1W bulb can produce in two hours. 

Although materials containing compounds that can stock and release heat are not new, researchers said that they used a natural ingredient in this invention that lessens the need to use oil-based items and diminishes CO2 emissions.

The makers, however, said that there’s still so much work to be done to improve the wood, including the replacement of a biodegradable option for the acrylic and comparison of wood and glass in terms of transparency. 

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