Transparent wood offers sustainable alternative to plastic, study finds

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A study published in “Science of the Total Environment” from the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore, showed the potential of transparent wood as a more sustainable substitute for plastic forms, mainly due to the use of less electricity during its production phase.

Titled “Assessing the Life Cycle of Transparent Wood Production Using Emerging Technologies and a Strategic Scaling Framework,” the study also uncovered the material’s suitability for mass production. ladder.

The study looked at the complete life cycle of transparent wood and compared it to polyethylene. He found that the degradation of transparent wood generates less environmental effects than the degradation of polyethylene and is also safer to produce.

From an ecological point of view, the report concludes that the production of transparent wood seems favorable and its conclusions indicate that industrial scale-up would generate less impact than laboratory-scale production.

It also showed that NaCIO2 (sodium chlorite) delignification and epoxy infiltration, the process by which wood is rendered transparent, generates minimal environmental impact compared to alternative routes of producing transparent wood.

Epoxy delignification and filtration

The process includes the removal of lignin to be replaced by a transparent material by infiltration.

For the experiment, 1 kg of natural “forest biomass” wood was processed into wood slices and subjected to the delignification, infiltration and post-treatment procedures that would be used if produced commercially. Sodium chlorite delignification and epoxy infiltration have been tested against several other options.

“Delignification” is the process by which lignin – the polymer found in plant cells that gives wood its rigidity and prevents light from entering the cells – is removed. Infiltration replaces lignin with epoxy, an artificial resin often used to make protective coatings and glues.

Sodium chlorite, often used in the pulp and paper industry, is applied to wood to bleach and delignify it. It is then washed three times with distilled water, acetone and ethanol, then dried. The delignified wood is then infiltrated with epoxy resin using polyoxypropylene used as a “crosslinking agent” to link the polymer chains together. The post-production process includes kiln-drying the wood slices.

The study shows that transparent wood production methods, which use sodium chlorite and epoxy infiltration, generate minimal ecological impact compared to other types of transparent wood production.

Potential applications

Transparent wood is already used in several industries and the new study identifies it as a possible replacement for petroleum-based plastics, including polyethylene, polypropylene, acrylic and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This indicates possible applications in car windshields, transparent packaging, biomedical devices and more.

The material is already commercially available as a replacement for glass to which it offers a lighter, more durable and better insulated alternative. Applications include glass in electronics. It is also currently used in other industries such as green energy and construction.

Speaking to Resource, co-author Prodyut Dhar explained that transparent wood as a technology is still in the development stage for use as an alternative to plastic on a commercial scale and many industries are planning to invest. in transparent wood as a potential alternative to plastic. .

Factors such as cost, process intensification and waste disposal are identified in the report as critical parameters that need to be addressed for industrial level production. The study also identifies that further research is needed on the recycling possibilities of transparent wood to determine its possible circular credentials.

Dhar continued that industrial-scale production of transparent wood will require further assessment of environmental impacts to “find potential hotspots” and strategies to reduce adverse ecological effects.

History of transparent wood

Wood was first developed in Germany in 1992 as a replacement for glass. german researcher Siegfried Fink explored methods for revealing wood cavities as part of his research on wooden structures. He instead developed the method in which the pores of the wood are exposed, making the material transparent and capable of being filled with epoxy for practical uses.

The Swedish Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland then explored methods of making transparent wood for commercial purposes. In 2016, the results of their work caught the attention of several engineers and architects looking for more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to glass.

The new study on its applications as an alternative to plastic is likely to trigger the next phase of interest in this material. Previously, the hardware was not widely used due to a lack of funding and uncertainty surrounding the scalability of production for commercial use.

Authors’ comments

Speaking to Resource, Dhar said: “Currently, transparent wood is rarely produced by large-scale industries. However, with significant progress in translational research and technology development, adaptation of transparent wood for industrial use is expected soon.

“We have received technological interest from renowned industries in this sector and are looking for closer collaboration for the successful translation of transparent wood to a commercial level.”

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