New transparent wood windows will outshine glass for future homes

18 Aug 2016

A team of engineers looking into different building materials in the home have found that the answer to better energy efficiency won’t be found by thickening glass, but by replacing it with transparent wood instead.

This new strange-looking wood was developed by a team from the A James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD) as an attempt to see how to increase energy efficiency in the home.

In a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, the team described how the development of a transparent wood provides not only better thermal insulation, but also allows nearly as much light to permeate it as glass.

Future Human

The team also said that this wood would eliminate glare and provide uniform and consistent indoor lighting, giving someone greater privacy as it would not be completely see-through.

The lead author of the study, Tian Li, said of its effects on the home: “We also learned that the channels in the wood transmit light with wavelengths around the range of the wavelengths of visible light, but that it blocks the wavelengths that carry mostly heat.”

Wood windows diagram

Diagram via UMD

Glass is cool, but not as cool as wood

Despite its odd appearance, transparent wood contains the same cell structure as normal wood but is cut against the grain, resulting in the natural channels in the wood guiding sunlight through them in a similar way to a glass window.

It is then bleached of all lignin, which gives the wood its distinctive brown colour and its strength, and is then soaked in epoxy to add strength once again while making it almost completely clear.

The channels in a transparent wood window would also direct sunlight in the say way every time.

The team came to this conclusion after building a small model house with transparent wood built into the roof.

“This means your cat would not have to get up out of its nice patch of sunlight every few minutes and move over,” Li said. “The sunlight would stay in the same place. Also, the room would be more equally lighted at all times.”

With a new patent on its wood design, the team has so far only tested on a small 2cmx2cm piece of linden wood but believes it can be scaled up to any size necessary.

Bedroom with light image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic