Environment

Sawdust-based material could be an eco-friendly alternative to EPS foam

Sawdust-based material could b...
An assortment of items made from the recyclable, biodegradable material
An assortment of items made from the recyclable, biodegradable material
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The material is currently made of sawdust mixed with hemp hurds and a cellulose-based binder
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The material is currently made of sawdust mixed with hemp hurds and a cellulose-based binder
Lokendra Pal works with samples of the material in his lab
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Lokendra Pal works with samples of the material in his lab
An assortment of items made from the recyclable, biodegradable material
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An assortment of items made from the recyclable, biodegradable material
The material can be pressed in a mold at high temperatures – or dissolved in a non-toxic solvent and then cast at room temperature – after which it's dried at low temperatures
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The material can be pressed in a mold at high temperatures – or dissolved in a non-toxic solvent and then cast at room temperature – after which it's dried at low temperatures
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While all non-recyclable plastics aren't very eco-friendly, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is particularly problematic, as it's bulky and frequently used in disposable packaging. It could one day be replaced by a new biodegradable material, however, made from sawdust.

The biomaterial is currently being developed at North Carolina State University, by a team led by professors Lokendra Pal and Lucian Lucia. Its chief ingredient is sawdust waste, which could be sourced from sawmills or other facilities. Although there are some other uses for sawdust, it's typically just burned or dumped in a landfill.

Once the sawdust is obtained and sieved, it's ground up in combination with agricultural waste products. The scientists are currently using hemp hurds, although we've been told that they will also be looking into other types of agri-waste, such as sugarcane- and banana-processing residue.

Whatever the case, the result is a powder, which is mixed with a binder made of plant-derived cellulose. That mixture can then be pressed in a mold at high temperatures – or dissolved in a non-toxic solvent and then cast at room temperature – after which it's dried at low temperatures. No water is used at any step in the process.

Lokendra Pal works with samples of the material in his lab
Lokendra Pal works with samples of the material in his lab

Not only can the resulting objects be recycled, but they will also completely biodegrade in salt water.

Pal and Lucia now plan on conducting pilot and commercial trials over the next six months, aimed mainly at exploring the material's use in packaging and food service products. They will also be performing more research on the material's biocompatibility, biodegradability, and its ability to be 3D-printed.

Source: North Carolina State University

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3 comments
3 comments
Johannes
As this material is intended as an EPS replacement in packaging, it would be really helpful to know what its density is...
Signguy
Hemp is the material of the future and has tremendous benefits. Before oil, Henry Ford had fenders made from Hemp that he hit with a slege hammer, and it bounced off with no damage!
TechGazer
As a packing material, density is probably less important than R-value (keeping food hot/cold) and not contaminating the food (probably needs a wax layer). For non-food packing, there are other options, such popped seeds, fungi, various 'vegetative waste products'. This sawdust product might be combined with one or more of those other products to provide materials that balance physical properties, cost, disposal costs, etc. These biowaste materials could be developed for local variables, so that one city might use more sawdust while another uses more straw or seaweed or whatever.