Conventional construction materials used for building our homes are most often inefficient. Cooling our houses during the warm season, for instance, usually requires a staggering amount of energy and associated carbon emissions. In an attempt to find a solution to this, scientists at the University of Maryland have managed to develop a high-tech type of wood that could help us stay cool and also reduce carbon emissions by cutting energy used on air conditioning.

The team of scientists created the material by removing the lignin – a component of the cell walls in trees – from natural wood using hydrogen peroxide. The remaining wood is mostly made out of cellulose, another component of the plant cell wall. Cellulose reflects visible light and only absorbs very low levels of near-infrared light. This means the cooling wood reflects most of the components of sunlight right back to the environment. As a result, a building made from this material would transmit barely any heat indoors.

To investigate how much energy the wood could save, the team simulated replacing the exterior walls and the roofs of some apartment buildings in 16 US states, representing a variety of climate conditions. They found the wood could reduce cooling energy requirements by an average of 20 to 35 percent.