Wood Based Car Parts? Canada Moves Forward With This Innovation

Outside of subtle luxury trim and wacky wooden art cars like Toyota’s Setsuna concept, it isn’t exactly common to see wood in vehicles these days. That could change soon as a result of some innovation coming out of Canada, as Toronto-based GreenNano Technologies works on a new lightweight wood-fiber based composite material. But if you’re hoping for beautiful visible wood grain, you’re better off buying an old wood-paneled station wagon, because these parts are made to go under the hood.

The Canadian government recently granted GreenNano Technologies $1.2 million CAD through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program to scale up its production. The project combines wood pulp with polymers to create a strong thermoplastic. According to the officials, the material has some advantages over other thermoplastics because it’s more uniform, and it could have all kinds of applications beyond vehicles, like aerospace parts, pharmaceuticals, solar panels and cosmetics.

GreenNano’s current wood-thermoplastic car parts include a cam cover, an oil pan and engine “beauty shields” and covers. They also show off how the new material can be utilized in 3D printers to create complex objects. Another Canadian bioplastic company, Advanced BioCarbon 3D, also developed a wood-based material for a similar purpose.

“Using forest products in the automotive sector is a great example of the high-tech future of forestry. Companies like GreenNano Technologies are creating good jobs and finding new markets for Canadian wood,” said Seamus O’Regan, minister of Natural Resources in a press release.

It’s an interesting concept that could potentially make use of waste wood produced as a by-product of the wood products industry. Other uses for these waste materials include paper products, biomass fuel and even wood floors embedded with wood pulp nano fibers that generate electricity when you step on them. Who said wood isn’t high tech?

Transparent Wood: What Can’t This Material Do?

transparent wood

You read that right: there is now a way to make wood transparent, making this timeless natural material even more versatile than it already is and opening up virtually limitless architectural and design capabilities for the future. Though it’s a long way from being commercially available, ‘invisible wood’ is in fact a reality now that scientists at University of Maryland, College Park have developed a special chemical process to remove the lignin that gives wood its color.

Not only is this processed wood as clear as glass, it’s sturdier than traditional wood, too, and could be used in place of less environmentally friendly materials in applications where unbreakable glass is needed. According to Dr. Lianging Bhu of the University’s Department of Material Science and Engineering, the key is chemically removing the lignin and then injecting the empty veins of the wood with epoxy to make it strong and durable. Similar to the cellular structure of bone, the tiny channels that naturally occur in wood are responsible for its strong yet flexible qualities.

Glass has poor thermal isolation, making it a weak point for temperature regulation in most sustainably-designed structures. Since wood is a natural insulator, it could make a dramatic difference in keeping buildings protected from extreme hot and cold.

“Potentially, the wood could be made to match or even exceed the strength of steel per weight, with the added benefit that wood could be lighter in weight,” says Hu. “It’s exciting. And because the material has been used for a long time, there’s already a lot of know-how and manufacturing infrastructure in the wood industry so the field will develop very quickly.”

This breakthrough comes on the heels of a major renaissance of large-scale wooden architecture picking up speed around the world, as government officials approve building projects on wooden skyscrapers towering higher than ever. All of these advancements point to a looming resurgence in demand for wood, boosting the industry on virtually all levels.