EghtesadOnline: An Iranian researcher and his colleague at Washington State University have developed an environment-friendly, plant-based material that for the first time works better than polystyrene.
Styrofoam or polystyrene foam is a popular material used in everything from coffee cups to materials for building and construction, transportation and packaging industries, Mehr News Agency reported.
Amir Ameli, assistant professor at the University’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Xiao Zhang, associate professor in the Gene and Linda School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering has been working to develop an environmentally friendly replacement for styrofoam.
According to Sciencedaily.com, the new eco-friendly foam is mostly made from nanocrystals of cellulose, the most abundant plant material on earth, Financial Tribune reported.
While other researchers have created other cellulose-based foams, they have not performed as well as styrofoam. They are not as strong, do not insulate as well, and degraded at higher temperatures and in humidity.
In their work, the team, led by Ameli, created a material that is made of about 75% cellulose nanocrystals from wood pulp, which is more elastic than similar products.
According to Ameli, for the first time, the plant-based material 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 does not produce polluting ash.
"Our results demonstrate the potential of renewable materials, such as nano-cellulose, for high-performance thermal insulation materials that can contribute to energy savings, less usage of petroleum-based materials, and reduction of adverse environmental impacts," he added.
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.
The team's product, along with similar eco-friendly materials, is hoped to ease plastic pollution that is enveloping the planet earth.