COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Scientists at the University of Maryland say they have come up with a quicker and easier process to turn wood transparent.
The standard procedure involves soaking wood in a vat of sodium chlorite to remove the wood's lignin - its structural component. But this process requires lots of chemicals, may weaken the wood, and produces chemical waste.
Researchers say their new method improves the process significantly. Instead of removing lignin completely, the team found a way to remove only the parts of the molecules which give them color. The procedure first involves brushing wood with hydrogen peroxide. It's then left under a UV lamp designed to simulate sunlight. After soaking in ethanol, the wood's pores are filled with clear epoxy.
The result? Wood that's 90 percent transparent and 50 times stronger than transparent wood developed under the previous method. 
"Transparent wood is lighter and stronger than glass. It could be used for load-bearing windows and roofs," says lead researcher Liangbing Hu. "It can be potentially used to make a see-through house."
Transparent wood would perform as a better version of glass, researchers say, as it takes less energy to heat and cool. It's also sturdier than traditional wood and can be used in place of less environmentally friendly materials, such as plastics.
A spinoff company called InventWood is working to commercialize the technology. 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.