The wood of the future: translucent and hyper-resistant
At 29 years of age, Timothée Boitouzet could revolutionise the building world. Elected French innovator under 35 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he has developed a technology that makes wood more resistant, non-inflammable and…. almost transparent.
Trained at the Versailles architectural school, the Frenchman started out in molecular biology and organic chemistry at Harvard in the United States. Over there he undertook research to improve the structure of wood. “To develop the cities of tomorrow we will need to build faster, with greater density, in a more environmentally friendly way. Wood will be the solution, provided it is turned into a hyper-resistant material” he explains.
To give the wood these properties, Timothée Boitouzet has adopted a molecular reconstruction approach. First of all, the lignin – a natural polymer that makes plants rigid – is removed, because it is this that is mainly responsible for stopping light getting through. “Depending on the species, wood is 60 to 70% air, he explains. It is possible to “cast” another material into these interstitia, which strengthens its structure. The wood is then impregnated by a molecule of natural origin, which strengthens the atomic links between the fibres.
The composite obtained is not very different from wood. It retains its shape, thickness and even its veins. Except for a few details: translucent, this hybrid is also three times more resistant to water and fire. And, a feat of engineering, it has a carbon footprint twice as faint as concrete and 130 times as faint as steel.
Since his discovery, the young architect has founded his own start-up, Woodoo, and patented his technology. Apart from interior design and furniture, the start-up intends to tackle secondary construction (façades, floors and roofs) and, in five years, construction. Thanks to this material’s exceptional strength, Timothée Boitouzet hopes one day to see 30-storey towers built in wood. While it is currently impossible to go higher than 12 stories with a traditional wood frame.