Every year the world produces 14 million tons of—non-biodegradable—polystyrene foam. The general-purpose plastic is hard, brittle, and cheap. And it forms everything from packing peanuts to disposable cutlery to insulation. Now, researchers at Georg August University in Germany say they may have a tasty, environmentally friendly alternative to consider: popcorn foam.
DesignTAXI first reported on this popcorn foam. Researchers say it could serve as a biodegradable alternative to expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation boards. That is, the material builders sometimes use as thermal insulation for housing and other structures.
Alireza Kharazipour, a professor of Forest Sciences at Georg August, first came up with the idea for popcorn foam more than ten years ago. New Atlas reports a bag of popcorn the professor purchased at the movies inspired him. (Hopefully, it wasn’t because he was incredibly bored with his film and decided to start playing with his food.) Since then, Kharazipour and his team have worked to develop a cheap, renewable, biodegradable, EPS-alternative foam.
To make their new, licensed product, the scientists begin the production process by shredding maize grains into granules. The team then uses pressurized steam to expand—or “pop”—them. After popping the granules, Kharazipour et al. then use a plant-protein-derived agent to bond the granules together. The final step involves pressing the popcorn foam mixture into a mold. Once the agent cures, the popcorn foam retains its shape and is ready for use.
“This new process, based on that of the plastics industry, enables the cost-effective production of insulation boards at an industrial scale,” Kharazipour said in a press release. The professor added that he hopes the popcorn foam will mean that “natural insulation materials are no longer just niche” products. Indeed, as long as it works and doesn’t cost as much as real movie popcorn does, it should catch on just fine.