Materials scientists have turned wood into stone, mimicking in a single workweek a natural petrification process that takes millions of years. In the January Advanced Materials, Yongsoon Shin and his colleagues at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., share their recipe.
They first soak blocks of pine and poplar in an acid bath to remove lignin, a gluelike substance in the wood, and then move them into a solution containing mineral-forming silica. Next, the team heats the dried, silica-infused wood to 1,400°C in an argon-filled furnace. The process binds silica to the carbon in wood’s cellulose.
The tough, heat-resistant, highly porous silicon carbide ceramic might soak up radioactive waste or remove carbon dioxide from smokestacks, says Shin.