Aero chocolate-style paper could create bubbles in the construction and packaging sectors

Light-weight foam material that is a green and renewable alternative

Light-weight foam material that is a green and renewable alternative

No, it’s not mouth-wateringly delicious, or even edible—but it is 100 percent natural, biodegradable and carbon neutral. Not many products in the construction, renovation, packaging and environmental remediation sectors can lay claim to that.

James Olson, FIBRE researcher at University of British Columbia, and his team have developed a light-weight, low-density cellular fibre “scaffold” that is suitable for applications such as sound absorption, thermal insulation, packaging and air filtration.

Wood fibres are added to a micro-bubble soap-and-water suspension which, when it dries out, leaves a very light-weight, porous scaffold. Add antibacterial properties, for example, and it can be functionalized for more applications, such as soil reclamation. The porosity gives it a massive surface area with which to interact with its target.

“The innovations are exciting,” says Olson. “The material itself, the way we make it, the ingredients and the way we functionalize it.”

The current material of choice for filtration and electrical, thermal and acoustic insulation is fibreglass. Cheap, plentiful and easy to use, yes. Non-renewable and hazardous to health, unfortunately, also yes.

“Fibreglass insulation is effective,” admits Olson. “But our product won’t destroy your lungs or emit possible carcinogens—and the process is very easy and cheap.”

The scaffold can be shaped into batts like the familiar pink insulation or customized for particular shipping applications. Sending a Ming vase by mail, for example, would require sure-footed handlers as well as stiff packaging that forms to the shape of the vase to prevent any movement whatsoever within the box. “We can do that,” says Olson.

Shipping fresh lobster from the East Coast to Saskatchewan, however, requires a softer, thermally insulated packaging that will keep the contents cold whatever the weather.

“We can do that, too,” says Olson. “In fact, we can make it into ceiling tiles; air filtration systems for hospitals, airplanes or other public places; sound-absorbent wall panelling for homes… you name it.”

The product isn’t on the market yet. The next step is to expand the physical properties (strength and rigidity) of the foam and its chemical properties for a wider range of applications. Then the team will look for a key partner with which to narrow the focus down to one or two applications and develop an actual product on a commercial scale.

The benefits to the partners could be important: this is, after all, a unique green material that has a wide range of applications in their core markets and shifts Canada towards a bio-economy.

Who thought a chocolate bar look-alike could do all that!

The work by James Olson and Reza Korehei, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Pulp and Paper Centre, will be featured at the PaperWeek 2015 Conference being held in Montreal, February 2-5.  To view the commercialization kit, visit {here}.  James Olson will also be speaking at the Commercialization Forum on Tuesday Feb. 3rd


James Olson
Associate Dean Research and Industrial Partnership Faculty of Applied Science
Professor Mechanical Engineering
The University of British Columbia
Tel: 604-822-5705


Anna Jamroz
Communications Coordinator
Pulp and Paper Centre
The University of British ColumbiaTel: 604-827-2117

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