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New Foam Insulation Devised from Wood

Monday, March 17, 2014

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German researchers say they have developed a greener alternative to using petrochemical plastics for building insulation.

“Our wood foam can be used in exactly the same way as conventional plastic spray foams, but is an entirely natural product made from sustainable raw materials,” said Professor Volker Thole of the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Braunschweig.

Wood foam
© Fraunhofer WKI

Scientists have developed a way to create foam insulation from wood particles.

Thole’s team reported its research in a March 4 announcement.

Recipe for Wood Foam

To create the foam, the team says it grinds wood until the particles become “a slimy mass.”

Then, they add a gas to the suspension to expand it into “a frothy foam” that is then hardened.

The hardening process is aided by natural substances contained in the wood itself, the team reports.

“It’s a bit like baking, when the dough rises and becomes firm in the oven,” Thole explained.

bread rising
Canadacow / Flickr

Professor Volker Thole compared the hardening of the wood foam to that of hardening bread.

The resulting wood foam is a lightweight base material that can be made into rigid foam boards and flexible foam mats, the scientists report.

Distinguished from Other Options

Wood-based insulation materials now on the market “tend to sink in the middle due to temperature fluctuations and damp,” Thole said.

However, the team says its development is “every bit as good as conventional plastic foams” in terms of insulating properties and its structural stability.

Thole did not respond last week to a request for more details, including any materials testing conducted.

Next Steps

The team is currently experimenting with different types of wood to discover which tree species make the best basis for its product.

The group is also working on suitable processes for mass-producing wood foams on an industrial scale.

The material could also be used in other applications, including packaging. Packing materials made from wood foam would provide “a long-term alternative to yet another oil-based product: expanded polystyrene,” the researchers add.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Energy efficiency; Insulation; Raw materials; Renewable raw materials; Research; Spray polyurethane foam

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/17/2014, 10:10 AM)

While I don’t know about architectural uses, the “mushroom packaging” seems an even more "green" choice, as it starts with agricultural waste (seed husks, corn stalks, etc) and turns those into packaging in a very low-energy way - using fungus to bind together the waste.

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