Development of a novel hydro-gel foaming technology for ultra-lightweight, cost-effective and biodegradable foams for thermal packaging applications

Lead University: Brunel University of London

Professor Jim Song, Virginia Martin Torrejon

Collaboration

Hydropak Ltd, Mike Collins

Summary

Motivation

Bio-foams, foams produced from bio-plastics, have been demonstrated to have excellent thermal insulation properties for thermal packing in shipment of temperature-sensitive products (e.g. fresh/chilled foods and pharmaceutical products) and energy absorption for protective (or cushion) packaging against impact damages.

Bio-foams can be made to biodegrade. This facilitates biological post-consumer packaging wastes treatment in home or industrial composting and anaerobic digestion facilities and close the ecological loop. It is particularly important as plastics form waste are:

  • lightweight and can easily be blown around as litter in the environment;
  • bulky for waste collection, transport and recycling.

Aims and objectives

This research aims to develop a green foam (processing and formulation) to substitute fossil fuel-derived foams for packaging of food and pharmaceutical products.

The objectives are:

  • To produce sustainable foam blocks with a thickness of at least 20 mm with similar properties to their PS and PE counterparts
  • -Understand the relationship between formulation, processing and properties of the material (density, structure and thermal conductivity, among others)
  • Optimise processing parameters: solution preparation, casting/moulding and drying

Methods

The flow diagram of the novel hydro-gel foaming technology consists in five stages:

  • 1. Raw materials and processing of the additives
  • 2. Processing of the hydro gel solution
  • 3. Foaming of hydro-gel solution
  • 4. Forming/moulding of hydro-gel foams into products
  • 5. Solidification/drying of the hydro-gel foam into solid foams

Highlights

  • It is feasible to manufacture green foams from a liquid foaming technology
  • The biofoams blocks produced here exhibit excellent properties (i.e. lightweight and good thermal insulation), and show comparable characteristics to their fossil-fuel counterparts
  • The manufacturing process is considerably flexible and so, biofoams with a wide range of densities and rigidities can be manufactured

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