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New research claims to make wood harder than steel

Many homes and businesses install wooden flooring because it is a good looking and durable material. The weight that wooden floors have to support is fine for most standard floor installations, but for areas with heavy machinery or where vehicles are used, wood floors are not strong enough and can easily be marked.

However, new research at the University of Maryland is looking at how to make wood as strong as steel. The technology being developed at the University could mean that lightweight wood floors could be an alternative low-cost material for floors that carry a lot of weight.

The researchers at the University of Maryland first boil natural wood in a solution of NaOH/Na2SO3 to make it less rigid and more porous. The treated wood is then compressed at a temperature of 100°C. It is claimed that this process makes wood as strong as steel. Tests have shown that a pellet fired from an air gun cannot penetrate a 3mm piece of this treated wood, whereas it easily does so when the wood is untreated.

The University of Maryland is commercialising its treated wood under the name of Inventwood and is looking at businesses including vehicle and boat manufacturers, and flooring suppliers that are potential markets.

Many homes and business will continue to install standard hardwood flooring in their North Wales rooms, but in the future, for industrial areas that now need the strength of concrete floors, treated Inventwood could be an interesting alternative.

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