Is Wood the New Styrofoam?
If you’ve never heard of ‘nanowood’ it probably won’t be long before it becomes the new buzzword. Nanowood is made by removing the filler from wood, which leaves only the bare fibers themselves, creating a material which has demonstrated amazing properties of insulation and has already out-performed other current insulators.
A team of researchers at College Park in Maryland has been experimenting with a process which uses simple chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium sulphite, and sodium hydroxide to strip away the lignin and hemicellulose from wood, which leaves just the cellulose fibers remaining. These remaining fibers are arranged in parallel and give nanowood all its unusual characteristics, such as high-quality insulation and surprising strength.
Nanowood is the filler in wood that would normally allow heat to be conducted across it, but with that filler removed, there is virtually no such conduction and instead acts as a reflectant. Nanowood has also been shown to be unbelievably strong and is able to withstand up to 2,000 pounds per square inch, which puts it way ahead of glass, wood, epoxy, wool, and yes, even Styrofoam. Since it’s also very inexpensive to produce, there will undoubtedly be a whole catalog of uses for nanowood in the very near future, especially in the area of insulation.
Another wonder material made from wood
By the year 2020, it is entirely possible that a brand new industry will have sprung up around another new wonder material made from wood, and that this new industry has a global value of $600 billion. As astonishing as that sounds, no one is questioning the numbers, because nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) is already amazing the experts with its practical applications in flexible electronics, computer components, and even lightweight body armor that the U.S. military has commissioned.
NCC is made by processing wood pulp, much like nanowood, in that it has the lignin and hemicellulose stripped out, before concentrating it into a thick crystalline paste which can be applied to various surfaces, or processed into strands called nanofibrils. This extraordinarily strong material is eight times stronger than stainless steel, yet is extremely cheap to make, and there is a virtually unlimited supply of it.
The first U.S. factory has already opened in Madison, Wisconsin, and is operated by the U.S. Forestry Service. The U.S. Forest Service has already achieved a number of successes with its research and is responsible for many of the modern wood-based technologies currently in use, including wood based computer chips. The laboratory is sure to be involved on some level with the ongoing research into nanowood and nanocrystalline cellulose in the coming years, to find even more uses for amazing new wood-based products.