A true all-rounder

High tech wood with extra properties

Apr 5, 2016 | AMANDA ARROYO
Wood is robust and versatile. But even the best material has its limits. Empa researchers are thus looking to transform wood into a high-tech material and broaden the range of applications for this natural resource. The trick: they give wood additional, unexpected properties.
Over the millennia, our ancestors have improved the properties of wood by developing varnishes, paints or other methods. A team of Empa researchers headed by Ingo Burgert is now taking it one step further: the “drug” for wood is supposed to penetrate deep inside the faithful old material and bind firmly to the wood components. This not only changes the properties on the surface, but also inside the material. Thanks to various treatments, Burgert and Co can render wood waterproof, fireproof, antimicrobial or even magnetic.
Not so scared of water after all
Water causes wood to weather and, in extreme cases, rot, which looks unsightly and destroys the material over time. Consequently, Burgert’s team places polymers deep inside the gaps between the wood cells and transforms the material into something completely new: fully impregnated, waterproof wood, which can be used to make a sink, for instance. One of these sinks is now to be put to the acid test in practice under everyday conditions at NEST. Read the full article here.
Protection against fungal infestations
Wood weathering is also caused by fungi and bacteria as the (organic) building material makes ideal breeding ground for microorganisms. In order to prevent this, the researchers use a substance that comes from fungi themselves: laccase, an enzyme that binds iodine firmly to the wood fibers. Iodine has an antimicrobial effect and permanently protects the wood fibers from decay. Read the full article here.
“Calcified” wood fights fire
Wood can even defy fire – if it comes from Empa’s lab and contains calcium carbonate, i.e. limestone, deep in its wood structures. The pale-colored mineralized wood doesn’t catch fire, even if held directly in the flame. Read the full article here.
New laws of attraction
If researchers channel iron oxide particles into the wood cells, the wood even becomes magnetic. This might in future be used in the automobile industry to functionalize wood fittings. Not only would this have an interesting added benefit; it would also look elegant on account of the iron nanoparticles’ dark color. Read the full article here.