Scientific Breakthrough Make Wood Stronger Than Steel, Ajaokuta Steel Faces Continuity Dilemma

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The Oasis Reporters

March 8, 2018

 

Research efforts will make wood more attractive than steel.

 

Evolving technology seems set to humble corruption and government might with it’s tight grip on business and the economy especially in African countries with the famed big-man syndrome.

Only recently, a biracial Nigerian patriot ,Ms. Natasha Akpoti was in the House of Representatives in Abuja, Nigeria ,testifying with documentary proof of the sleaze and deception that characterized the setting up and sabotage of the second largest steel plant in the world, the Ajaokuta Steel Plant that reached 98% completion, but a combination of lack of political will, heavy corruption and deception, laid the multi billion dollar plant almost dead, with assets, stripped.
Attempts to revive the moribund plant built by the Russians, Natasha’s maternal country has failed.

Well, since 1971 when conscious effort to kick-start the plant till date, a time space of 47 years is about to go down the drain as technology is now making wood, a pretty awesome material, which lacked the strength and toughness of other materials such as the stronger metals. That could change, however, thanks to research coming out of the University of Maryland, College Park, where engineers have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger than titanium alloys.

The results mean that everyone’s favorite tree-based material could be used as an alternative to the ultra-tough likes of steel while remaining significantly lighter. Faster growing softwoods like pine and balsa could also be treated to replace some of the applications which currently require slower growing but denser woods like teak.

“We [developed] a totally new densification technique by combining chemical modification and hot-pressing,” Liangbing Hu, the leader of the research team, told Digital Trends. “Our resulting densified wood features a highly dense and laminated structure with intertwined cell walls that are fully collapsed without gaps. Most of the densified wood consists of well-aligned cellulose nanofibres, which greatly enhance hydrogen bond formation among neighboring nanofibres. The mechanical performance of the resulting densified wood is more than one order of magnitude better than that of the natural wood.”

The chemical modification Hu refers to involves partially removing lignin, the organic polymer that forms an important structural material in plants, and hemicellulose, a component in plant cell walls. The densification technique was then completed by hot-pressing to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius.

To put the new material through its paces, the team tested its resilience to bullet-like projectiles by firing at it. While the projectile was able to completely pierce natural wood, in the case of the new reinforced wood material it only penetrated part of the way through.

“We are [currently] investigating its potential integrations into multiple applications which requires the material to meet the complete performance matrix,” Hu said, concerning the next step of the project. A University of Maryland startup called “Inventwood” has been created to help commercialize the university’s advanced wood technologies, including this one.

Ever since the story broke, the University of Ibadan in South West Nigeria and the Calabar Polytechnic that both have Wood Engineering faculties seem ready to process more applications from University and polytechnic admission seekers.

Currently, graduates of Wood Engineering from the University of Ibadan often get jobs on Oil company off-shore platforms where they are requested to construct Wooden platforms for drilling rigs.

Revival may be on the way for African Timber company (ATP) in Sapele, Delta State, Nigeria and Crorom Woods in Calabar, a wood development and production company that was set up as a joint venture between the old Cross River State Government and Romania in the 70s to turn wood to pulp fibre for the manufacture of paper products. The company underwent series of downturns, but now is the season for revival. As offices become paperless, wood would resurrect as viable alternative to steel ,and all the money sunk into Ajaokuta and Itakpe iron ore mines would truly rest in loss.
That is, until another use is found for Iron ore, of which deposits in Ajaokuta and Itakpe is said to have a productive capacity to last Nigeria another 200 years or more.

Credits :
Digital Trends / Luke Dormehl
NTA
House of Representatives

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