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Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material
Science  (IF47.728),  Pub Date : 2021-10-22, DOI: 10.1126/science.abg9556
Shaoliang Xiao, Chaoji Chen, Qinqin Xia, Yu Liu, Yuan Yao, Qiongyu Chen, Matt Hartsfield, Alexandra Brozena, Kunkun Tu, Stephen J. Eichhorn, Yonggang Yao, Jianguo Li, Wentao Gan, Sheldon Q. Shi, Vina W. Yang, Marco Lo Ricco, J.Y. Zhu, Ingo Burgert, Alan Luo, Teng Li, Liangbing Hu

Wood is a sustainable structural material, but it cannot be easily shaped while maintaining its mechanical properties. We report a processing strategy that uses cell wall engineering to shape flat sheets of hardwood into versatile three-dimensional (3D) structures. After breaking down wood’s lignin component and closing the vessels and fibers by evaporating water, we partially re-swell the wood in a rapid water-shock process that selectively opens the vessels. This forms a distinct wrinkled cell wall structure that allows the material to be folded and molded into desired shapes. The resulting 3D-molded wood is six times stronger than the starting wood and comparable to widely used lightweight materials such as aluminum alloys. This approach widens wood’s potential as a structural material, with lower environmental impact for buildings and transportation applications.