‘Super Wood’ Could Replace Steel, Engineers Say

(CBS Local) — Stronger than steel, cheaper than carbon fiber, capable of stopping a speeding bullet. It sounds like a futuristic material from outer space, but engineers say the revolutionary new substance is actually made of wood.

“This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher,” the University of Maryland’s Liangbing Hu said in a press release. “This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable,” the associate professor at UMD’s School of Engineering added.

According to the team’s report in the journal Nature, the specially treated wood goes through a two-step process that boils natural wood in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite, followed by hot-pressing it to collapse the cell walls. “Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination,” Harvard University’s Zhigang Suo said.

The UMD team tested their new creation by shooting bullet-like projectiles at the “densified wood” as well as natural, untreated wood. While the bullets cut straight through natural wood, the fully treated material was able to stop the bullet before it broke through.

Engineers see this invention as a cost-effective way to replace the steel industry entirely. “This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings – any application where steel is used,” Prof. Hu proclaimed. Another benefit of building with the densified wood is it reportedly doesn’t need any expensive adhesives added to it, which makes other building materials nearly impossible to recycle.

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