A group of researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm has developed Optically Transparent Wood (TW), a new material that could greatly impact the way we develop our architectural projects. Published in the American Chemical Society's journal Biomacromolecules, the transparent timber is created through a process that removes the chemical lignin from a wood veneer, causing it to become very white. This white porous veneer is then impregnated with a transparent polymer, matching the optical properties of the individual cells and making the whole material translucent.
Lars Berglund, a professor at KTH Wallenberg Wood Science Center, says that these translucent panels could not only be used in windows and facades to let in sunlight while preserving the occupant's privacy, but also would be an effective material for the surfaces of solar cells - particularly when covering large expanses of cells, where the wood's cheap production costs would offer a significant cost benefit.
"When the lignin is removed, the wood becomes beautifully white. But because wood isn't naturally transparent, we achieve that effect with some nanoscale tailoring," said Berglund.
The optical properties of the material, which was funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, are "tunable by changing the cellulose volume fraction." A detailed explanation of the process here.