Researchers have created a new material that allows for more efficient and environmentally friendly insulation.
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We have seen how the development of new materials can help reduce our carbon footprint, for example the invention of a biodegradable gelatin-based bioplastic. Similarly, the creation of a self-healing robot hand offers the potential to cut waste and lead us towards a more environmentally-friendly way of manufacturing products. The creation of nanowood offers a better alternative to existing insulating materials and is both cheap and biodegradable.
A team of scientists at the University of Maryland in College Park created a new unique material by removing all of the lignin and most of the hemicellulose from the wood. This exposed the wood to the chemicals sodium hydroxide, sodium sulphite and hydrogen peroxide. Removing these parts from the wood leaves only the nanofibers of cellulose, making the wood incredibly lightweight. Moreover, the parallel arrangement of these fibres means that the material works very well as an insulator. This method makes it difficult for heat to travel across the fibres. All the wood that has been removed is replaced by air, a poor conductor.
The authors of the study declared: “to the best of our knowledge, the strength of our nanowood represents the highest value among available super insulating materials”. Moreover, if the thickness of the nanowood is less than one millimetre, it becomes flexible. This allows for the material to be folded and rolled, rendering it suitable for even more purposes. With the capacity to be eaten by bacteria under the correct conditions, nanowood could be stronger. However, in turn this makes the material a more eco-friendly version to Styrofoam.
How else could this material be used to reduce carbon-emissions and increase efficiency? Could this be the first of a wave in the development of new materials possessing unique properties?