Glass might be great for looking through but, unfortunately, it’s a very poor insulator. In a typical house, windows account for roughly 10% of the total heat lost and two thirds of this is radiation through the glazing itself.
In recent years, materials scientists have been experimenting with making wood transparent. The premise being that, if you can retain the strength and insulating properties of wood and make it clear, you have a great renewable and sustainable alternative to glass.
Previous attempts have focussed on removing the lignin in wood (the component that absorbs light and makes it appear brown) and replacing it with a colourless resin, but this method requires harmful chemicals not to mention a lot of energy.
However, recent research by the University of Maryland, has instead focussed on using hydrogen peroxide, or bleach as it’s commonly known, to colour the wood white – a similar process used to make paper. After treating the wood with hydrogen peroxide they expose it to UV light (or natural sunlight), after which the wood is soaked in ethanol to further clean it. They finish the process by filling the pores or holes in the wood with clear epoxy.
The end product was found to be both 50 times stronger than transparent wood made the conventional way, with 90% transparency. The researchers noted that the wood could, theoretically, be used to create an entirely see-through house because it can also be used as a load-bearing material… although we’re not sure that will have any mass appeal.