Scientists Use Bamboo To Create Transparent Glass With Fireproof Power

Researchers at the Central South University of Forestry and Technology (CSUFT) in Changsha, China, have developed a novel glass-like transparent material using natural bamboo.

Unlike wood-based products, this glass is flame-retardant, smoke-suppressant, and super hydrophobic at the same time, a press release said. 

Silica is the material of choice when it comes to glass. Over the years, silica-based glass has been used across sectors, and its demand exceeded 130 million tons in 2020. 

While it is easy and inexpensive to produce glass in this manner, the final product is extremely dense and brittle, and the production process emits planet-warming gases. Therefore, an environment-friendly alternative is needed. 

Wood-based products

As the world looks for cleaner ways to meet its demands, there is a surge in demand for transparent materials made from wood. In addition to a lower carbon footprint, wood offers superior mechanical strength and thermal insulation properties. 

Most importantly, the material has better transparency than silica glass and is therefore better suited for multiple applications. The problem, however, is the scarcity of raw materials.

Estimates suggest that even with planned plantations, industrial wood will be in short supply by 2050. 

Additionally, the polymers used in making the wood transparent make it susceptible to fire, a major hazard. To overcome these difficulties, the CSUFT researchers used bamboo to make their transparent material. 

Glass from bamboo

Caichao Wan, a researcher at the College of Materials Science and Engineering at CSUFT, explained that bamboo has a faster growth and regeneration rate, which allows it to be used as a building material with four to seven years of growth. 

“With an output four times higher than wood per acre, bamboo is recognized for its exceptional efficiency and is also known as the second forest,” Wan said in a press release.

Bamboo’s composition is similar to wood’s, and its vertical channels provide high porosity and permeability. 

The researchers utilized this aspect of the bamboo to make a transparent glass-like material. They used vacuum-impregnation to introduce inorganic liquid sodium silicate (Na2O·nSiO2)  into the delignified bamboo structure, and the intermediate product underwent a hydrophobic treatment. 

“Through this strategy, we can build a 3-layered flame-retardant barrier comprising a top silane layer, an intermediate layer of SiO2 formed through hydrolysis–condensation of Na2SiO3 on the surface, and an inner layer of Na2SiO3),” Wan stated in the press release

In their tests, the researchers found that their newly devised material had an ignition time of 116 seconds and a heat release of only 0.7 MJ/m2. Smoke production from the material was also less at 0.063 meters square. These superior capabilities of the material were seen alongside better mechanical properties such as bending and tensile strengths. 

The researchers used their transparent material to make perovskite solar cells; the glass showed high light transmittance at 71.6 percent, leading to an improvement of 15.29 percent in energy conversion efficiency. 

Source: Interesting Engineering, Inc.

Comment: "With the addition of different layers to bamboo, how will this product be reused or recycled in the future?"

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