Researchers Develop Fire-Retardant Wood

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A research published in iScience reported development of a synthetic resol wood by China-based institutions. 

Homeowners looking to build decks and fences prefer plastic-wood composites as the composites do not require sanding, staining, and painting. However, a major factor that retrains wide use of plastic-wood composites that are synthetically engineered, is the strength of the material. The plastic-wood composites are not as strong as natural wood. Moreover, the plastic-wood is highly prone to catching fire. Now, a group of researchers from China-based institutions created a synthetic wood that matches natural wood’s strength and is flame resistant to boot. The research was published in iScience on August 10, 2018.

The researchers used lignin— a natural polymer to produce the synthetic wood. The researchers observed that lignin makes natural wood strong as it binds small crystallites of cellulose together in a web-like structure. A synthetic polymer—resol has similar properties as the polymer also has a web-like structure and can bind crystallites together to create strength. Moreover, resol is a retardant. Based on the requirement of wood type the crystallites can be changed. Moreover, adding or switching out the crystallites that the resol holds together change the color or other properties of the wood. Similar to natural wood’s cell structure, the engineered wood adopts a cell-like structure when crystallites cure. The novel synthetic wood has high resistance when the wood is compressed.

Other engineered wood such as plastic-wood composites that is often used to build outdoor porches or fences lacks considerable strength compared to natural wood. However, the resol wood is more effective than those plastic-wood, owing to its strength and ability to resist fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were 364,300 residential building fires in 2016. Of those fires, 1,800 were fatal and 7,000 resulted in injuries. Such high incidence of building fires requires resol wood that do not catch fire. The resol wood offers corrosion resistance to humidity and acid with no decrease in mechanical properties. This wood thus can likely resist extreme weather events, along with thermal insulation.

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