Innovative new material “nanowood” offers improved insulation

Meet nanowood: a new material with insulation properties capable of blocking at least 10 degrees more heat than Styrofoam that’s also stronger and more environmentally friendly.

Developed by engineers at the University of Maryland, nanowood has the potential to be used as home insulation or take-away coffee cups.

It’s 30 times stronger than Styrofoam, and vastly superior ecologically as well as being hypoallergenic and fully biodegradable – and can be produced as blocks, sheets or rolls. 

The material is produced by taking cuts of regular wood and boiling them in sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphite, before removing the lignin using hydrogen peroxide. It then undergoes a freeze-drying process in order to maintain its wooden structure. The process results in a lightweight bundle of cellulose fibres, which is essentially wood’s scaffold-like structure.

The tubular shape of the fibres means that, while heat is conducted relatively successfully in line with the fibres, it is blocked from traveling in any other direction. Therefore, it has the potential to offer an added level of control over how heat is transferred around a space through strategic positioning of the fibres.

Aside from its superior insulating properties and strength, the lignin responsible for the brown colour usually associated with wood is removed, making it white in colour to actively reflect sunlight. 

However, much more investigation is required before nanowood can be considered a viable option for property insulation. It is currently not clear how long the production process may take, or how expensive the important freeze-drying element of the process may be.

If nanowood does not prove itself as an option in the world of construction, it could have other uses. If production costs are suitably low and a steady supply becomes available, it could be used in portable coolers, or to offer a more sustainable alternative to the Styrofoam cup.

Source: New Atlas

Image credit: University of Maryland