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Say goodbye to Styrofoam as new Plant-based biodegradable material proves capable of doing same job

by Felix Omondi

Styrofoam is one of those inventions that completely revolutionized man’s life as soon as it was discovered. The material acts as insulators and cushion for electronics and delicate cargo while in transit.

However, this stuff is problematic in their nature. In that they don’t degrade naturally, and should you choose to burn them as a way of disposing of them. You will be releasing a lot of harmful gases into the atmosphere. There is also the huge problem that it is made of petroleum, which is a finite natural resource.

Bye bye Styrofoam, it was nice knowing you

Well, it appears we might soon be parting ways forever with this useful, yet environmentally-unfriendly packaging and insulation product. That is if the prototype developed by researchers at the Washington State University (WSU) lives up to its promises.

The researchers on Thursday claimed they had developed a plant-based alternative to styrofoam. They went ahead to make the bold statement that their product does even better insulation than the styrofoam. The researchers work is available at the journal Carbohydrate Polymers.

The WSU researchers say their invention will save the world from the styrofoam pollution especially when it burns; and also the fact it will be an eyesore for eons if not burned. Their replacement material is 75% cellulose nanocrystals made from wood pulp added some polyvinyl alcohol to make it more elastic foam. The WSU researchers’ material is also said to be capable of supporting up to 200 times its own weight without deforming.

Previous Styrofoam replacement attempts

This is not the first attempt at finding a replacement for styrofoam. There is one made out of peanuts that came close but fails short because it does not give as good insulation properties as styrofoam. The peanut-made material was, however, suitable for packing and would dissolve in water.

It would, therefore, appear that the WSU researchers are the first team to hit the jackpot as with regards to finding a more environmentally friendly styrofoam replacement.

Our results demonstrate the potential of renewable materials, such as nanocellulose, for high-performance thermal insulation materials that can contribute to energy savings, less usage of petroleum-based materials, and reduction of adverse environmental impacts,” said Amir Ameli, one of the mechanical engineers in the WSU research team.

The new plant-based styrofoam replacement is still in its infancy stage and will take sometime before you can find one insulating your house, coffee mug, or being used in packing electronics.

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