ETH Zurich scientist is developing a method by which green waste can be processed into
foamed plastics which can be used in the auto industry or construction, but also to manufacture shoe soles, toys, yoga mats, packaging or mattresses. In other words: any product that requires the elastic, cushioning property provided by foam materials.
The developed solution is sustainable in two respects: First, the biomass used in the process is a natural waste product – coming partly from agriculture. So, no additional land cultivation is necessary. Second, the organic foam material breaks down much faster than conventional foamed plastic.
Innovative Propellant from Gas and Water
The new solution involves the use of a novel propellant that is added during the manufacturing process and enables the biomass to foam at lower temperatures. The bio-propellant is completely green, unlike the synthetic additives used in the production of foamed plastics. It is based on a mixture of gas and water.
If foam materials made from organic waste are to achieve a high level of elasticity, a precise "recipe" must be followed. That includes the specially designed propellant, an organic waste-based formulation, and a specific manufacturing process.
Easy Foam Production and Industrialization
As part of ETH Pioneer Fellowship, Zuzana Sediva, research fellow at ETH is now refining the method for industrial use. Manufacturing the new propellant in large quantities will not be a problem. "We can make up to 60, perhaps even 100 liters of foam an hour
," Sediva says. Sediva intends to prove this in the next few months. This would fulfil one of the requirements for bioplastic to become a success not only in the laboratory, but also on the market.
Another advantage of Sediva's method is its compatibility with traditional processes used to manufacture foamed plastics, so potential customers do not require additional infrastructure.
Prospective clients will depend on who is willing to be involved in pilot projects. Sediva is currently looking for industry partners. "I think packaging would be a good entry point
." Here foamed materials are used to protect products, or for the design process. Later, the shoe industry could be another potential client.