Due to its strength, availability, and potential as a renewable resource, wood is one of our most frequently used building materials. However, when you think of wood, transparency is not generally a property which springs to mind.
Researchers at both the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the University of Maryland have been developing a technique to create transparent wood panels. The two part process involves soaking blocks of wood in a boiling bath of water, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals for about two hours. This removes the lignin (the polymer which gives wood its color) from the cell walls of the wood, making it white. To turn the whitened wood clear it is then soaked with an epoxy, which creates conduits for light to pass through and also helps to strengthen the panel. 1
The transparent wood is stronger than glass and will not shatter upon impact. However, further work needs to be done in order to create thicker panels of translucent wood which still have a high transmittance rate for light. Previously transparent wood materials have been made only on a very small scale, for example to be used in wood-based computer chips. This technology could be used to create wood windows, which would have low thermal conductivity as compared to traditional glass windows. Translucent wood also has the potential to be used for solar cells, bringing the cost of manufacture down and replacing silica-based glass. 2