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Transparent bamboo

Researchers at Central South University of Forestry and Technology (CSUFT) in China developed a way to make bamboo transparent, to use as a flame-retardant alternative for silica glass.

Silica glass, the type of glass commonly used in the construction industry, has many advantages, such as its high transparency. However, it has some downsides, including brittleness, high density, and substantial CO2 and greenhouse emissions during the manufacturing process.

As an alternative, researchers have been looking at transparent wood. Transparent wood not only offers environmental benefits, but also holds a large potential as a viable alternative to traditional glass materials. However, wood also has its downsides, like wood scarcity, particularly in China. The use of polymers in transparent wood also makes it highly susceptible to fire.

Bamboo grows much faster than wood. It shares similarities with wood, mainly consisting of lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose, and resembles wood in its structure.

To make transparent bamboo, the researchers impregnate an inorganic liquid sodium silicate (Na2O·nSiO2) into the delignified bamboo structure using a vacuum-impregnation technique. Subsequently, a hydrophobic treatment is applied to the intermediate product. Through this technique, they are able to build a three-layered flame-retardant barrier that is also smoke-suppressing and superhydrophobic. The transparent material also has excellent mechanical properties.

In the future, the material could be used an alternative to silica glass in construction, or in the production of perovskite solar cells.