It is known that the material, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is a problematic material. The material is inexpensive and very light in weight than making it an attractive option. However, it is not environmentally friendly at all. It is non-biodegradable and hence, it is difficult to recycle the material. This is what inspired a team of German scientists to make a substitute for this material. They have developed a substance that is made from popcorn foam.
Georg August University’s Prof. Alireza Kharazipour had the concept in his mind a decade ago when he bought a bag of popcorn at a movie theater. Since then, his team has devised a technique of using the stuff in an inexpensive, biodegradable, renewable-source, EPS-alternative foam.
The material is produced by mechanically shredding maize grains into granules, then using pressurized steam to expand (or “pop”) them. Afterward, 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 can be used.
The research states that this foam traps more heat than the EPS. It is less flammable than that, and it can be composted, shredded for reuse, used to produce biogas or even utilized as animal feed once discarded. Additionally, along with the maize kernels, corn industry waste such as broken cobs can be used in its production.
Germany’s Bachl Group has received its license for the innovation. They will soon be commercializing it to be used in building insulation. Besides this, the material can be used in 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.