In 2018, the Sidewalk Labs C.E.O. Dan Doctoroff had a goal. His goal was to build the first 21st-century city, not out of steel or concrete, but out of wood. So far, it's looking pretty good. Teng Li, a mechanical engineer at the University of Maryland, works with his colleagues to create a high-performance type of wood that's as strong as steel but weighs six times less. This kind of wood is said to be able to replace the steel used for cars, airplanes, and even buildings.
There are two steps to make this kind of low-cost and lightweight wood. First, scientists boil the natural wood in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite to remove the wood cells in the outer layer. Second, they put the wood in a machine that presses it between two glazed boards and hot metal plates to create a smooth wooden board.
The rapid growth of the human population has caused cities to expand. To solve this problem, some are looking to build cities out of wood instead of materials that contribute to climate change. People agree to this, but those who are opposed are afraid of city fires.
Alastair Bartlett, from the University of Edinburgh, made three rooms as big as walk-in closets. One of the rooms only had two walls exposed, the second one had only a wall and a ceiling exposed, and the final one had two walls and a ceiling exposed. They all had four wooden “cribs,” known as the fuel load. They were lit using fiber strips that were soaked in paraffin, a flammable and oily liquid. Bartlett then recorded how hot each room was and how fast they were burning. One of the rooms with exposed walls and ceiling managed to “auto-extinct,” meaning it extinguished the fire by itself. Bartlett couldn't determine clearly what made fires burn themselves out and decided to do more experimentation.
There are many advantages to using wood for buildings. Scientists have conducted studies showing that the presence, the scent, and even just the feel of wood can give people positive effects. It also helps lower stress levels and blood pressure. They also concluded that for future experiments, they should study the color, quantity, and even the patterns in the wood to see if it has a positive effect as well.