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Effect of Starch and Paperboard Reinforcing Structures on Insulative Fiber Foam Composites

Single-use plastic foams are used extensively as interior packaging to insulate and protect items during shipment but have come under increasing scrutiny due to the volume sent to landfills and their negative impact on the environment. Insulative compression molded cellulose fiber foams could be a viable alternative, but they do not have the mechanical strength of plastic foams. To address this issue, a novel approach was used that combined the insulative properties of cellulose fiber foams, a binder (starch), and three different reinforcing paperboard elements (angular, cylindrical, and grid) to make low-density foam composites with excellent mechanical strength. Compression molded foams and composites had a consistent thickness and a smooth, flat finish. Respirometry tests showed the fiber foams mineralized in the range of 37 to 49% over a 46 d testing period. All of the samples had relatively low density (Dd) and thermal conductivity (TC). The Dd of samples ranged from 33.1 to 64.9 kg/m3, and TC ranged from 0.039 to 0.049 W/mk. The addition of starch to the fiber foam (FF+S) and composites not only increased Dd, drying time (Td), and TC by an average of 18%, 55%, and 5.5%, respectively, but also dramatically increased the mechanical strength. The FF+S foam and paperboard composites had 240% and 350% higher average flexural strength (σfM) and modulus (Ef), respectively, than the FF-S composites. The FF-S grid composite and all the FF+S foam and composite samples had equal or higher σfM than EPS foam. Additionally, FF+S foam and paperboard composites had 187% and 354% higher average compression strength (CS) and modulus (Ec), respectively, than the FF-S foam and composites. All the paperboard composites for both FF+S and FF-S samples had comparable or higher CS, but only the FF+S cylinder and grid samples had greater toughness (Ωc) than EPS foam. Fiber foams and foam composites are compatible with existing paper recycling streams and show promise as a biodegradable, insulative alternative to EPS foam internal packaging.

Publication date: 26/03/2024

Author: Gregory M. Glenn

Reference: doi: 10.3390/polym16070911

MDPI (polymers)


This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.