A home must be insulated for several reasons. But speaking for efficiency, insulation helps reduce energy consumption. Even green homes must be insulated in some way, but most insulating foams are composed of petroleum – a material that's not at all eco-friendly. This creates a contradiction of sorts because it shows that even a green home can still be detrimental to the environment.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Germany have developed a new type of insulating foam that is much greener. The foam is actually made from wood, meaning it's much more eco-friendly in many ways, including how it’s disposed of.
In order to create the foam, wood is ground into tiny particles that are so small they actually form a viscous-like base. A special type of gas is pumped into the solution, which gives it a frothy consistency. Then, the solution is allowed to harden, which researchers claim is sped up and "aided by natural substances contained in the wood."
This leaves a dry wood foam, which can be shaped to make the proper materials. The researchers have successfully turned it into rigid foam boards for use in walls and vertical positions, or flexible mats better suited for floor or ceiling use.
Professor Volker Thole of Fraunhofer, explains that the team was able to uphold industry standards with the resulting wood foam:
"We analyzed our foam products in accordance with the applicable standards for insulation materials. Results were very promising; our products scored highly in terms of their thermo-insulating and mechanical properties as well as their hygric, or moisture-related, characteristics."
Of course, the wood foam produced by the Fraunhofer team is not the only kind in existence. There are other wood- and wool-based insulation materials, but they're not what you'd call ideal. You see, these other materials can be messy, shedding fibers long after installation. Over time, they also tend to settle, decreasing in size and becoming less effective.
The Fraunhofer wood foam is explained to be more efficient, more eco-friendly and devoid of the common issues found in similar materials.
Now that the team has perfected the creation of their foam, they’re experimenting with different types of wood to determine which is the most ideal. In addition, they're researching ways to manufacture it in larger quantities, which would allow the production process to be increased on a commercial scale.
As eco-friendly as this new material might be, it will largely depend on one thing: where the wood actually comes from. It's no secret that harvesting trees for any kind of resource is bad for the environment. If a great deal of trees must be harvested and ground to create the foam, it’s counterproductive because it renders the green aspect of the raw material null and void.
Imagine, however, if they could discern a solution that uses recycled wood or existing wood waste. It's worth noting that there are such materials currently being developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Freiburg.
In just a few years’ time, this wood foam could become an industry standard, bringing us one step closer to a zero footprint in our green homes.
Wood foam picture by Fraunhofer.
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