• This article is part of the following channel(s)

Cellulose-based foam insulates better than Styrofoam

Researchers at Washington State University in the US developed an environmentally, cellulose-based foam that insulates better than oil-based Styrofoam.

Polystyrene foam or Styrofoam, made from petroleum, is a popular material that is used in everything from coffee cups to building insulation. The material, however, is infamously difficult to recycle, it doesn’t degrade and creates pollution when it burns.

The new foam is mostly made from nanocrystals of cellulose, the most abundant plant material on earth. The manufacturing process is also designed to be eco-friendly and simple. Rather than using harmful solvents, the researchers used water as a solvent.

This isn’t the first foam made from cellulose, but earlier versions weren’t as strong as Styrofoam, didn’t insulate as well and degraded at higher temperatures and in humidity, according to the researchers.

The material consists of about 75 per cent cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp. The researchers added polyvinyl alcohol, a polymer that bonds with the crystals and makes the resulting foam more elastic.

The foam has a uniform cellular structure, making it a good insulator, better even than Styrofoam. The material is also very lightweight and can support 200 times its weight without changing shape.

The researchers are now developing formulations for stronger and more durable materials for practical applications. They are interested in incorporating low cost feedstocks to make a commercially viable product and considering how to move from laboratory to a real-world manufacturing scale.

Photo: Washington State University