Transparent Wood: Is this the new age sustainable alternative to plastic & glass?
Wood is used as fuel, is used to make furniture and paper, and is also used in the construction industry. But this renewable resource is depleting at a faster rate, so can this really be a sustainable alternative to plastic?
It was first in 1992 that German scientist Siegfried Fink created transparent wood, and the process is still under further improvements to create a sustainable and impactful material.
How wood is made transparent?
The transparency in wood is obtained by the delignification process. In this process, the wood sample is soaked in a boiling solution of sodium hypochlorite and sodium sulfite, followed by drenching in hydrogen peroxide. This removes the lignin from the cellulose, which is mainly responsible for giving wood its color. The lignin thus removed is replaced with lab-produced resin such as epoxy. This makes the material sturdier and enhances its mechanical properties.
The special kind of wood is expected to biodegrade at a faster rate than glass or plastic.
Expected applications of transparent wood?
As per the study, transparent wood is expected to be used for making car windshields, in the construction industry, energy storage, see-through packaging and biomedical devices.
Prodyut Dhar, an author of the study and assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology’s biochemical engineering school, quoted, “Transparent wood as a material can replace the environmentally harmful petroleum-based plastics such as polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, polyethylene, etc.” He further added, “Plastics are used as a substitute for glass, which is (naturally) fragile. However, this new material is an even better alternative from an ecological perspective, as observed in our life-cycle analysis. “
Is transparent wood really the future?
- Wood in its natural form is biodegradable, but epoxy is not. Replacing lignin with epoxy and making wood non-biodegradable raises the question of whether transparent wood can be called “sustainable”.
- Wood is a renewable resource, but is also depleting at a faster rate. Replacing plastic and glass with transparent wood will increase the dependency on wood resources. This will cause more harm than possible benefits.
- If this material is claimed as being biodegradable even after having epoxy, then special conditions or facilities might be required to execute the same. This implies that all the material should not ever be dumped but instead be sent back to these facilities to biodegrade. Seeing the present scenario where plastics end up in landfills, it is far more difficult to expect any change in the case of transparent wood as well.
But there’s still a lot more to be explored and improved in this material. If this material really has to be called sustainable, it needs to serve as an alternative to present materials without causing any damage to renewable resources.