Researchers at Empa and ETH Zurich have found a way to make wood deformable and stable at the same time. The development has the potential to make it into a new high-tech material.

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich have developed a new wood material. It can be deformed as required. According to Empa, once it has been shaped into the desired form, it is three times stronger than natural wood.

Wood essentially consists of three components, namely cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, and lignin is what gives wood its stability. Researchers have removed precisely this element for their new material. The remaining white cellulose can easily be formed into any shape when wet. When the delignified wood is dried, this leads to stable compounds. Adding a water-repellent coating ensures that the interior of the wood can no longer become damp and thus retains its desired shape.

The new material also has a higher porosity than natural wood. “This is a great advantage for the functionalization of wood. Because there is more space between the cells and in the cell walls, it is easier to introduce other substances into the wood structure that give the modified wood new properties," says ETH researcher Tobias Keplinger.

According to Empa, the new wood has the potential to become a new high-tech material. In initial experiments a bicycle helmet, the interior trim of a car door and the side mirror of a vehicle have already been produced from the deformable wood.

 

Researcher make wood deformable
A bicycle helmet or a wall element made of delignified wood: designer Meri Zirkelbach dealt with concrete product ideas in her master's thesis. Source: Empa / ETH Zürich.

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