Freiburg, Germany - A project at the Freiburg Materials Research Center which aims to produce insulating foam using extracts from tree bark has won prizes for the scientists involved.
Leader of the project Prof Marie-Pierre Laborie from the Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences of the University of Freiburg has been named "German High Tech Champion," by the Fraunhofer Association in the category "Green Buildings."
Laborie will receive Euro 15 000 ($19 500) together with colleagues Prof Antonio Pizzi and Prof Alain Celzard from the French Université de Lorraine.
The prize will be awarded at Pollutec 2012, an international trade fair for environmental equipment, technology, and services, being held 27-30 Nov 2012 in Lyon, France.
A statement from the Freiburg centre says that Laborie's research team make hard foams using tannin, a compound found in tree bark, typically left over as a waste product in the lumber industry.
Since the foams have good insulating and flame-resistant properties, they can be used predominantly as insulating material for buildings and moulded automobile parts, claims the centre.
Also, the group says, they could be used as catalysts or filters for heavy metals and as a replacement for packaging materials like styrofoam. And Freiburg claims they will "even be useful after the products themselves are worn out," since a further goal 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," said Laborie, in a statement.
According to the Freiburg centre, the foam made in the lab uses tannin, furfuryl alcohol and a solvent, such as diethyl ether, with formaldehyde as a crosslinking agent. "We are still looking for a less environmentally harmful, natural cross-linking agent to replace formaldehyde in the future," said Ricarda Böhm a doctoral candidate in Laborie's research group.
The scientists are trying to use only natural raw materials, and ideally waste products. One interesting candidate is aldehyde furfural, which can be produced from sawdust.
The work is also using natural additives that prevent the foam from crumbling too much, and the foams can also be modified with nanocellulose to improve their mechanical stability, the centre says.
The 'Biofoambark' work is being supported by the Agency for Renewable Resources with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. As well as the University of Freiburg, collaborators on the project include the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, and scientific and industrial partners in Italy, Spain, Finland, Slovenia, and France.
PIC: German High Tech Champion Prof Laborie