Liangbing Hu, left, and Teng Li, right, are engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park who have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger and tougher than before. Credit: University of Maryland

A new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and ten times tougher. The wood substance could be comparable to steel or titanium alloys; it is also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive.

The process begins by removing the wood's lignin, the part of the wood that makes it both rigid and brown in color. Then it is compressed under mild heat, at about 150 °F. This causes the cellulose fibers to become very tightly packed. Any defects like holes or knots are crushed together. The treatment process was extended a little further with a coat of paint.

The wood's fibers are pressed together so tightly that they can form strong hydrogen bonds, like a crowd of people who can't budge and are also holding hands. The compression makes the wood five times thinner than its original size.

The new wood material and natural wood were tested by shooting bullet-like projectiles at them. The projectile blew straight through the natural wood; the fully treated wood stopped the projectile partway through.

This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings, or any application in which steel is used.

For more information, contact Martha Heil at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 301-405-0876.