DID you hear about the wooden car, with wooden wheels, a wooden chassis and a wooden engine? It wooden go.
Or would it? In a few years’ time, when people really are driving wooden cars, that joke will be headed for the junkyard.
“Wood could be used in cars,” says materials scientist Liangbing Hu at the University of Maryland. He recently received a massive grant to build cars out of high-tech wood, and he doesn’t have the road to himself. Engineers in Japan are also working on a wooden concept car due to be unveiled at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
But cars are just the green shoots of a growing wood revolution. In materials science labs and design studios around the world, people are working on an entire civilisation built from wood. In this future, steel, concrete, plastics and even electronics have been felled by wood. Wooden cars ply streets towered over by wooden skyscrapers with wooden windows. Wooden aeroplanes fly overhead, powered by wooden batteries. People wear wooden clothes and use mobile phones made from wood. It may sound like toy town, but it is deadly serious.
The stages of human civilisation have always been crudely measured by material progress. The Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. Today, we live in the hydrocarbon age, fuelled by coal, oil and gas. They supply our energy needs and make possible the materials that define our civilisation: steel, concrete and plastic.
But this has to end. To avoid trashing the …