Lightweight, strong, moldable wood via cell wall engineering as a sustainable structural material

Shaoliang Xiao, Chaoji Chen, QQ Xia, Yu Liu, Y Yao, QY Chen, M Hartsfield, A Brozena, KK Tu, SJ Eichhorn, Y Yao, JG Li, WT Gan, SQ Shi, VW Yang, M Lo Ricco, JY Zhu, I Burgert, A Luo, T LiLB Hu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

143 Citations (Scopus)
386 Downloads (Pure)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-471
Number of pages7
Issue number6566
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The information, data, or work presented herein was funded in part by the Advanced Research Projects Agency?Energy (ARPA?E), US Department of Energy, under award DE?AR0001025. The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof. L.H. also acknowledges support from the University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering. We acknowledge the support of the Maryland Nanocenter, its Surface Analysis Center, and AIMLab.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.




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