A New Transparent Wood Could Help Cut Home Energy Use

A new transparent wood becomes cloudier (right) upon the release of stored heat.

A new transparent wood becomes cloudier (right) upon the release of stored heat. Credit: American Chemical Society

Scientists have developed a building material made of transparent wood that can store and release heat. The material could replace some of the glass traditionally used in homes and buildings, the scientists say, helping to reduce energy consumption.

The new material, created by scientists at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, was unveiled this week at an American Chemical Society meeting in Orlando. To create the nearly see-through wood, the researchers removed lignin, a light-absorbing compound, from the cell walls of balsa wood. They then infused it with acrylic to reduce light scattering. The product appears hazy, letting light through, but also providing privacy. Lastly, they added a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG), a “phase-change material” that switches from a solid to a liquid at different temperatures, storing and release heat as it does.

“During a sunny day, the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than outside,” Céline Montanari, a Ph.D. student at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology who led the creation of the new material, said in a statement. “And at night, the reverse occurs — the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so that you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.”

An average 48 percent of the energy used in U.S. homes goes toward heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The material, which is strong enough to hold heavy loads, is also biodegradable, making it more environmentally friendly than other building materials such as plastic and concrete. Montanari and her colleagues said the transparent wood would likely be available for small-scale architecture and design projects in as little as five years.