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