U.S. Forest Products Laboratory

They’re stronger than Kevlar and weigh a lot less. Take a close-up view of a new type of wood product that carries a a tongue-twisting name: electrospun polymethyl methacrylate fibers. The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory opened in July a $1.7 million plant in Madison, Wis., that will test ways to break down wood fibers and weave them into new fibers that are tougher, lighter, and environmentally renewable, like the ones shown here. But your 2x4s are likely to be the last place the new stuff will be used. Researchers say the fibers, which take a transparent liquid form, could end up replacing the ever-more-expensive petroleum that goes into many everyday products while adding $600 billion to the U.S. economy by 2020. The fibers thus could deliver new revenue to the forest products industry while keeping consumer costs down.