Turning bark into insulation
Researchers at Germany's University of Freiburg are trying to green up the insulation foam used in construction, by replacing its petroleum-based ingredients with a naturally-occurring compound that ordinarily goes to waste in the lumber industry.
By John Tenpenny
The raw material for the biofoam is tannin, a compound found in tree bark. Properly processed, it can be used to produce hard foams that are not only good for insulation for buildings and molded auto parts, but that also have flame-resistant properties. It’s also possible that the foams could come to replace the toxic, polystyrene (more commonly known as Styrofoam). A further goal of the Biofoambark project is to convert the foams into biofuel.
“We want to relieve the burden on the environment by increasing the usefulness of wood and offering a marketable alternative to petroleum-based foams,” says Dr. Marie-Pierre Laborie, from the Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences at the university, who leads the project.
Recently, the project received the German High Tech Champion distinction award in the Green Buildings category from the Fraunhofer Association. The Biofoambark research is supported by the German government through its Agency for Renewable Resources. It also receives support from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg as well as commercial and industrial partners in Italy, Spain, Finland, Slovenia, and France.