Is "transparent wood" the future of glass?

Transparent Wood

Heating and cooling a home is costly, and inefficient building materials often make a house's carbon footprint even worse.

But thanks to a new generation of futuristic building materials, those materials could be poised for a significant upgrade. A team of researchers at the USDA and several research institutions say they've developed "transparent wood," a glass-like material made almost entirely out of trees that they claim is stronger, safer, more cost efficient and more thermally efficient than glass.

Kicking Glass

It's a lucrative concept that has drawn the attention of multiple research teams across the globe, all working on similar concepts.

The problem with conventional glass is that especially in a single pane configuration, it's a terrible insulator. Producing it can also come with a heavy carbon footprint, emitting about 25,000 metric tons per year, according to a recent statement by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In their paper published in the Journal of Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers claim their transparent wood result in windows five times more thermally efficient than glass.

Going Green

Creating the novel material is also a far greener process. For one, it's made from the sustainable, fast-growing balsa tree. The wood is oxidized in a special bleach bath and then penetrated with a synthetic polymer.

The resulting material is not only virtually transparent, it acts more like plastic — it can withstand impacts much better than glass and tends to bend and splinter like wood instead of shattering into pieces.

Color the USDA impressed.

"With all of these potential benefits for consumers, manufacturing and the environment, the case for transparent wood couldn’t be… clearer," reads the statement.

READ MORE: Transparent Wood Could Be the Window of the Future [USDA]

More on transparent wood: This “Transparent Wood” Could Cut the Cost of Heating Your Home

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