German scientists create usable foam from tree bark


November 1, 2012

Researchers at the University of Freiburg have developed a technique for making foam from a compound found in tree bark (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers at the University of Freiburg have developed a technique for making foam from a compound found in tree bark (Photo: Shutterstock)

Germany is known for its cutting-edge policies on green issues, and its drive towards a clean economy. One of its latest eco-breakthroughs comes from the University of Freiburg's Biofoambark project. Researchers there 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.

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, über-un-green polystyrene (more commonly known as Styrofoam).

Additionally, the research team would like to give their biofoam an extra job by converting it into biofuel once it's ready to be discarded. This would further increase the usefulness of the raw material from which it's made.

Recently, the project caught the attention of specialists at the Fraunhofer Association, who awarded it the German High Tech Champion distinction award in the Green Buildings category. 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.

The University of Freiburg research is not the first attempt at making biofoam from organic waste. A researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been working on a method to make foam from paper mill waste products.

Source: University of Freiburg

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology. All articles by Antonio Pasolini

I guess they are 'bark'-ing up the right tree; a very green one; IMO.


If it is fuel in its endstage, do they get around fire hazard by packing it tight, no air, when it is in use as insulation?

Mary Saunders

The only tannin polymer chemistry I was able to find: involves formaldehyde as a major component. Based on previous bad effects in consumer insulation market with exposure to this chemical I don't see how 'green' it can be. Also, not much as far as detail in the article- links, etc.?

William Latinette

Fraunhofer rocks! They recently branched out with an institute in Cambridge, Mass, creating jobs for US researchers. I met its Germany director who is now back in Freiburg. He told me the difference between Germany's renown Max Planck Institutes (MPI) and the Fraunhofers is that the MPIs convert money into research, whereas Fraunhofer turns research into money. They really aim at marketable, profitable products that benefit society.

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