Development of a novel hydro-gel foaming technology for ultra-lightweight, cost-effective and biodegradable foams for thermal packaging applications.
The green foam that could revolutionise packaging
Bio-foam could be the answer to environmentally costly packaging materials
With more and more globalisation of industry, there are more and more delivery vehicles on the roads to bring products in suitable packaging to their destination. No doubt many of us have marvelled at the amount of metal, glass, plastic and cardboard packaging needed to bring goods from retailer to customer.
Much of these packaging comes in the form of foams for protection against impact damages or thermal insulation to maintain suitable temperature. Foams like polystyrene, polyethylene and polypropylene are non-biodegradable and derived from fossil fuels have a negative effect on the environment both in their production and in their disposal methods. Foams derived from petroleum are particularly bulky and lightweight, causing difficulties in waste collection, transport for recycling or disposal to landfill and can be blow around as litter in the environment.
However, there may be an alternative. Researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Food Chains (CSEF) are working with industrial partners to develop a biofoam to replace fossil fuel derived foams for packaging of food and pharmaceutical goods.
The bio-foams are made from renewable materials from plants such as vegetable fats and oils and corn starch instead of petroleum. The post-used foams can be biodegraded with green/food waste in home or municipal composting facilities or anaerobic digestion for energy recovery.
The CSEF researchers, based at Brunel University are developing a novel continuous process for cost effective biofoam production. It is hoped that this will lead to a greater knowledge of the formulation, processing and properties of the material and enable them to create an optimised production process that could easily be used in industry.
So far, the research is progressing well. The team have developed a novel hydrogel foaming technology. It enables to cost-effective manufacturing of ultra-light foams with good thermal insulation and energy absorption properties comparable with their fossil fuel counterparts. There is also a lot of flexibility in the manufacturing process so that a lot of different densities and rigidities could be manufactured.
Professor Jim Song of Brunel University said: “This is a significant breakthrough in bio-foam technology which overcomes the bottle-neck economic problem that has limited more widespread applications of bio-foams for many years in the past ”.
This bio-foam research is one example of how CSEF scientists are innovating with materials and the manufacturing processes in the food industry. They aim to offer workable solutions to the industry to reduce environmental impact while still being good for business.
The Centre for Sustainable Energy in Food Chains is a collaboration between Brunel, Birmingham and Manchester Universities and is funded by the Research Councils UK Energy Programme with industrial partner support. http://www.foodenergy.org.uk/