Dr Liangbing Hu (left), and Teng Li, engineers at the University of Maryland, have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger and tougher than before.

A JOINT venture between Kyoto University and Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry aims to have the world’s first wooden satellites orbiting the Earth by 2023.

There are an estimated 6000 satellites now orbiting the Earth, and most of them are non-functional. Apparently, each time a dead satellite re-enters our atmosphere, it produces alumina particles as it burns up, and these micro-bits remain in the stratosphere for years, eating away at the protective ozone layer.

When wood burns it does not produce alumina or any dangerous pollution. Plus, if one of these satellites should break up in space, wood chips are way less dangerous to the International Space Station than the myriad nuts, bolts and metal shards floating around up there.

The engineers at Kyoto University aren’t using plywood or OSB board, obviously. Researchers from the University of Maryland, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other institutions have found various ways to make wood super-strong and amazingly light and thin.

The University of Maryland’s ‘super wood’ as they call it is equal to steel in strength, yet lighter than aluminium.

Dr Liang Bing Hu, leader of the UM research team, says their low-cost innovation will rival steel and titanium alloys in construction uses, and is much cheaper. Hu expects it to be used in cars and planes in the future.

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have combined wood fibre with, of all things, a marine worm to create a product which is comparable to super wood, but is more flexible. Similar work is being done in many other countries, including France and Sweden, where engineers have focused on transparent wood for shatter-proof windows.

Wood has been moving into unexpected areas for some time now. A very cool example is San Francisco-based Allbird, which since 2014 has been making soft, comfortable wood-fibrer running shoes.

Made from sustainably grown eucalyptus trees, the sneakers are said to be unusually light, cool and comfortable, and especially good for hot climates.