Building insulation is a persistent problem.
For years, building walls were packed with fiberglass batting that shed microfibers that lodged in the lungs and promoted cancer.
Fiberglass was abandoned in favor of panels of polystyrene, a denser version of Styrofoam. That minimized health problems for people who install it and live with it, but it can crumble over time, is almost impossible to recycle, and eventually will degenerate into the microplastics that litter the ocean floor and invade the bodies of living creatures (“Drinking the Bottle Along With the Water,” 10 Jul 2019).
Researchers at Germany’s Georg August University are ready to replace polystyrene with popcorn.
The idea was born a decade ago when a materials scientist at the university bought a bag of popcorn at a movie theater.
Now the group has turned the snack into a packing and insulating alternative to chemical plastics.
The team shreds popcorn kernels into tiny granules, then pops them with pressurized steam. An adhesive made from plant proteins is blended in and the mixture is cured in a mold.
The material, which looks like a Rice Krispie square, absorbs heat better than polystyrene, is less flammable, and can be composted, shredded and re-used as insulation, or even used as animal feed when it’s ready to be discarded, the developers say.
Corn industry waste, such as cobs, in addition to popcorn kernels, can be used to make the material.
The university has licensed the material to a business that makes building insulation.
However, the popcorn packing also could be molded into cushioning for shipping, lightweight auto parts, and other uses, according to the creators.
TRENDPOST: Wheatboard instead of plywood, recycled glass instead of plastics for kitchen countertops, popcorn for insulation—the building industry is not only going green but finding more and more ways to use renewable resources other than just lumber and keep its waste out of landfills.
Georg August University’s popcorn insulation molded as a packing cushion for a wine bottle.
Credit: Georg August University
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