Researchers at Washington State University have developed a new plant-based insulation that, according to Tina Hilding of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, outperforms traditional polystyrene foam (Styrofoam).
Along with this, the researchers developed an eco-friendly manufacturing process using water as a solvent to make the new foam, decreasing the use of environmentally harmful solvents.
According to a press release from WSU, the new material is extremely lightweight and can support up to 200 times its own weight.
“This promising 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,” Co-researcher and associate professor Xiao Zhang said in the press release.
According to researcher and assistant professor Amir Ameli, the foam is mostly made from nanocrystals of cellulose, the most abundant plant material on the planet.
Traditional polystyrene foam is made using petroleum and the toxic ingredients do not biodegrade and create harmful pollution when burned. The new development by WSU is just the beginning of future work on the product as researchers plan to develop better formulations of the new insulation with the end goal of moving from a laboratory to a scale of real-world manufacturing and use.