Popcorn used to create an eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene foam
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is a problematic material, in that it's cheap and lightweight but also non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle. German scientists have developed a possible alternative, though – foam made out of popcorn.
Georg August University's Prof. Alireza Kharazipour first got the idea over 10 years ago, when he bought a bag of popcorn at a movie theater. Since then, his team has devised a method of using the stuff in an inexpensive, biodegradable, renewable-source, EPS-alternative foam.
The production process begins by mechanically shredding maize grains into granules, then using pressurized steam to expand (or "pop") them. Next, a plant-protein-derived bonding agent is mixed in with the expanded granules, after which the mixture is pressed into a mold. Once the bonding agent has cured, the resulting sheet, block or other item is removed from the mold and is ready for use.
According to the university, the foam absorbs heat better than EPS, it is much less flammable, and it can be composted, shredded for reuse, used to produce biogas, or even utilized as animal feed once discarded (and no, there's no word on whether or not people can eat it). Additionally, along with the maize kernels, corn industry waste such as broken cobs can be utilized in its production.
The technology has recently been licensed to Germany's Bachl Group, which will be commercializing it for use in building insulation. Other possible applications for the material include protective/insulating packaging, sports equipment components and lightweight automotive parts.
"I think this is my contribution as a scientist for a clean environment, free of plastic-based products," says Kharazipour.
Source: Georg August University