It's far more sustainable.

Transparent Wood

A team of researchers claim to have created a biodegradable and renewable alternative to both glass and plastic in the form of "transparent wood," a futuristic new material that could greatly reduce the ecological impact of more environmentally-unfriendly building materials.

As detailed in a new study to be published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, the material could also allow us to significantly cut down the use of plastics.

"Transparent wood as a material can replace the environmentally harmful petroleum-based plastics such as polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, polyethylene, etc.," Prodyut Dhar, an author of the study and assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, told SciDev.Net.

Greener Alternative

The material, which was invented by German scientist Siegfried Fink in 1992, has seen several changes and improvements over the intervening years.

It's made by first removing a naturally occurring polymer called lignin from wood and replacing it with specially-designed, transparent plastic materials.

"Plastics are used as a substitute for glass which is (naturally) fragile," Dhar said. "However, transparent wood is an even better alternative from an ecological perspective as observed in our life-cycle analysis."

Shattering Glass

It won't be replacing glass and plastic in their entirety anytime soon. Scientists have yet to figure out how to scale up production of the material in an economical way.

According to the researchers' analysis, glass also still came up on top in terms of its impact (or lack thereof) on the environment.

"In recent times transparent wood has been used in construction, energy storage, flexible electronics and packaging applications," Anish Chathoth, assistant professor at Kerala Agricultural University, told SciDev.Net, but "given the growing concerns about the environmental impact of petroleum-based plastic materials, transparent wood has a role in maintaining environmental sustainability."

READ MORE: Transparent wood could soon replace plastics [SciDev.Net]

More on wood: MIT Says We Could Build a House With Lab-Grown Wood

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