Structure–property–function relationships of natural and engineered wood

Abstract

The complex structure of wood, one of the most abundant biomaterials on Earth, has been optimized over 270 million years of tree evolution. This optimization has led to the highly efficient water and nutrient transport, mechanical stability and durability of wood. The unique material structure and pronounced anisotropy of wood endows it with an array of remarkable properties, yielding opportunities for the design of functional materials. In this Review, we provide a materials and structural perspective on how wood can be redesigned via structural engineering, chemical and/or thermal modification to alter its mechanical, fluidic, ionic, optical and thermal properties. These modifications enable a diverse range of applications, including the development of high-performance structural materials, energy storage and conversion, environmental remediation, nanoionics, nanofluidics, and light and thermal management. We also highlight advanced characterization and computational-simulation approaches for understanding the structure–property–function relationships of natural and modified wood, as well as informing bio-inspired synthetic designs. In addition, we provide our perspective on the future directions of wood research and the challenges and opportunities for industrialization.

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Fig. 1: The hierarchical and porous structure of wood at multiple length scales.
Fig. 2: A selection of structural modification strategies for wood.
Fig. 3: Strategies to enhance the mechanical strength and fire resistance of wood.
Fig. 4: Structural modifications to enhance multiphase transport for water and energy applications.
Fig. 5: Manipulating the optical properties of wood.
Fig. 6: Manipulating the thermal properties of wood.
Fig. 7: Characterization techniques for determining the structure–property–function relationships of wood.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank A. H. Brozena for valuable comments on the manuscript and J. Dai for the helpful discussion on Fig. 1.

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L.H. and C.C. researched data for the manuscript. All authors made substantial contributions to the discussion of the content. C.C., L.H., Y.K., S.Z., I.B., T.K., T.L. and S.J.E. contributed to writing the manuscript. All authors reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

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Correspondence to Liangbing Hu.

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Chen, C., Kuang, Y., Zhu, S. et al. Structure–property–function relationships of natural and engineered wood. Nat Rev Mater (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-0195-z

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