Engineers have for the first time demonstrated that wood can be directly converted into a carbon sponge capable of withstanding repeated compression and other extreme mechanical conditions. The new sponge can be used in various applications including electronic devices and sensors. The wood carbon sponge overcomes several limiting factors of other lightweight, compressible carbon sponges because it is simpler, less expensive, and more sustainable to produce.
The researchers achieved the bendable yet resilient architecture of the wood carbon sponge by using common chemicals to destroy the stiff hemicellulose and lignin fibers that maintain the normal cell-wall structure of balsa wood, then heating the treated wood to 1,000 °C in order to turn the organic material into carbon alone.
The net effect of the process was to collapse the repeated, regular, rectangular pockets typical of the microstructure of balsa and other woods and replace them with a stack of wavy, interlocking, arch-like carbon sheets.
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