University of Maryland researchers have created a new type of wood that is stronger than steel and even stronger than some types of titanium. They’ve been able to drastically increase the wood’s density, increasing it’s strength by a factor of ten. This gives it the strength of steel, but much lighter than the metal. It even has the ability to be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.
Here’s the catch, they didn’t create a new kind of tree, just a new kind of wood. They did it by taking existing wood and boiling it with a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite. This results in the partial removal of the wood’s lignin and hemicellulose. the next step is to hot-press the boiled wood. This crushes the cell walls and forges them into strong nanofibers.
One of the big benefits of this new wood is that it can be made in a sustainable manner. It works very well with Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly. As a result, this could end the need for the harvesting of old-growth, hard wood trees.