New factory planned for a type of wood with 'mettle'

Photo By InventWood

A Maryland company developing a new type of wood with the strength of steel is moving from university to its own industrial space. 

InventWood, maker of MettleWood, is moving from its incubator space at the  University of Maryland to an 88,971-square-foot manufacturing facility in Frederick, Maryland.

With a $20 million grant from the US Department of Energy, IW will launch manufacturing in 2025.

InventWood signed a lease for a nearly 89,000-sq.-ft. facility. Photo: connectcre.com

InventWood develops environmentally sustainable materials with cellulose-based materials and nanotechnology innovations. The company said the process developed by Dr. Liangbing Hu, Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland (UMD), creates a wood product that is as strong as steel.

MettleWood is a high-value structural material invented that is a highly suitable material for a range of purposes - from automotive to building construction to premium furniture. 

Specifically, MettleWood offers numerous possibilities for deployment in the built environment including as a replacement for structural beams, columns, and connections that could ultimately result in reductions of 37.2 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years. It represents one of the few technologies with the potential to reduce steel and cement consumption and their associated carbon footprints.

The process includes dismantling the wood’s lignin – the cell walls inside wood that give it strength – which softens it, and then closes the fibers via evaporation. The team then re-swelled the wood by "shocking" it with water.

"The rapid water-shock process forms a distinct partially open, wrinkled cell wall structure that provides space for compression as well as the ability to support high strain, allowing the material to be easily folded and molded," Hu told Woodworking Network in 2022. "The resulting 3D-Molded Wood is six-times stronger than the starting wood and comparable to widely used lightweight materials like aluminum alloys."

his ‘moldable wood’ can then be folded into different shapes and then set to dry before forming the final product. The remarkable foldability of the processed wood originates in its wrinkled cell wall structure, which can sustain severe folding without fracture.

"Moldable wood significantly broadens the potential applications of wood as a sustainable structural material, while reducing the environmental impact for buildings and transportation applications," said Teng Li, mechanical engineering professor at UMD and co-author on the study on the technique, which appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of Science magazine.

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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).