Washington State University (WSU) researchers have developed a new eco-friendly foam that possesses better insulation properties than Styrofoam.
They have also developed a greener and simpler method for manufacturing these cellulose-based foams by using water as a solvent.
Scientists have over the years worked to find a more environmentally friendly alternative to polystyrene foam or Styrofoam.
Styrofoam is used in almost everything today – right from coffee cups, to materials for building and construction, transportation, and packaging industries.
It is however made from toxic petroleum ingredients and doesn’t degrade naturally, thus creating pollution whenever and wherever its burnt.
WSU’s new material is made of 75% cellulose nanocrystals derived from wood pulp.
They’ve added polyvinyl alcohol – another polymer that bonds with the nanocellulose crystals – to make the resultant foams more elastic.
According to the researchers, the new material contains a uniform cellular structure implying it is a good insulator.
They have also reported that, for the first time ever, the plant-based material has surpassed the insulation capabilities of Styrofoam.
It is also very lightweight and can support up to 200 times its weight without changing shape. It degrades well, and burning it doesn’t produce any polluting ash.
“This is a fundamental demonstration of the potential of nanocrystalline cellulose as an important industrial material,” says associate professor Xiao Zhang.
“The material has many desirable properties, and to be able to transfer these properties to a bulk scale for the first time through this engineered approach is very exciting.”
The researchers – led by assistant professor Amir Ameli – are now developing formulations for stronger and more durable materials for practical applications.
They are mulling on incorporating low‑cost feedstocks to make a commercially viable product, and considering how to move from laboratory to a real-world manufacturing scale.
Image and content: Washington State University