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Wood foam may be a new form of green home insulation

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March 7, 2014

Samples of Fraunhofer's wood foam insulation

Samples of Fraunhofer's wood foam insulation

Insulating your home may help the environment by lowering your energy usage, but unfortunately the petroleum-based foam that's typically used as insulation isn't all that eco-friendly itself. Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, however, have developed a reportedly greener alternative that they claim works just as well – it's foam made from wood.

To produce the foam, wood particles are first ground so small that they form into a slimy solution. A gas is then added to that slime, causing it to take on a frothy consistency. Once that froth hardens – a process that is "aided by natural substances contained in the wood" – a dry, porous foam is the result. The finished product can take the form of either rigid foam boards, or flexible mats.

The slime can also be converted into foam via induced chemical reactions.

"We analyzed our foam products in accordance with the applicable standards for insulation materials," said Fraunhofer's Professor Volker Thole. "Results were very promising; our products scored highly in terms of their thermo-insulating and mechanical properties as well as their hygric, or moisture-related, characteristics."

While other wood-based insulating mats and wools do already exist, they have a tendency to shed fibers and to compress in the middle as they settle.

The Fraunhofer team is now researching what types of wood work best, along with how to scale up the foam-making process to commercial production levels. Needless to say, the eco-friendliness of the foam will depend largely upon how many trees need to be harvested in order to supply the raw material. Hopefully wood waste from existing industries could be used, as is the case with wood-based foams being developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Freiburg.

Source: Fraunhofer

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
17 Comments

I wonder what the properties with regard to fire. The oil based isolation materials are terrible in that respect as in them not only being able to burn they also release a lot of poison smoke when there is a fire.

The best choice for isolation is really the wools made from stone. It ma y even be that making stone wool is so efficient that it takes less energy to make than this new wood thing.

BZD
7th March, 2014 @ 05:12 pm PST

Great idea, but what about flammability?

I'd be a little worried that foam wood would burn very well!

mlesurf
8th March, 2014 @ 01:52 am PST

Hopelessly flammable.

Tim Jonson
8th March, 2014 @ 08:41 am PST

Umm, isn't that paper? Just a guess, but I am thinking that burns.

Where is the problem with fiberglass?

Mindbreaker
8th March, 2014 @ 01:12 pm PST

Sculptors would love this stuff though. Work through ideas before using more expensive materials or when making temporary sculptures. Much nicer than corrugated cardboard.

Mindbreaker
8th March, 2014 @ 01:17 pm PST

Oh, it's wood, so it must burn? I'm sure Fraunhofer, a long-established and respected science and engineering concern, has thought things out before random commenters weighed in. For instance, it's pretty common knowledge what common, non-toxic additives would make this fire resistant (as well as resistant to termites and other pests). Ever heard of borax? Here's something to chew on: there are millions of American homes with cellulose insulation and they meet fire codes because of said additives. Cellulose is also essentially paper. FYI, this is intended to replace things like expanded polystyrene insulation boards, which everybody has seen on the outside walls of houses and buildings under construction. EPS boards including the Styrofoam™ brand are also quite flammable.

Gadgeteer
9th March, 2014 @ 10:59 am PDT

REALLY? Are we still at this STONE AGE step?

H. E. M. P.

Facebook User
10th March, 2014 @ 02:50 am PDT

A company called Cool or Cosy have been producing a chemically treated paper based insulation for more than 35 years will excellent fire retard. First used in my house in Perth in 1979 and have since used the same in Thailand - see www.thaicoolcell.com

Raywat
10th March, 2014 @ 02:52 am PDT

It's open cell insulation. Not very good really. Open cell results in low R factor.

JAT
10th March, 2014 @ 09:30 am PDT

I wonder if it will be resistant to pests like termites and wood ants. Also curious about what happens when it gets wet.

Dave Andrews
10th March, 2014 @ 11:05 am PDT

It would be interesting to know if the Fraunhofer team or others can achieve Aerogel levels of insulation value in this this or a similar material. And, yes, borax is effective at both suppressing flammability and is very distasteful to insects and vermin.

StWils
10th March, 2014 @ 11:52 am PDT

Good Points Gageteer, I am curious also about the R value and could it be used as a Structural Insulated Panel (aka SIP). And how does this differ from commercially available wood foam insulation products currently available from Germany-like Agepan?

ADVENTUREMUFFIN
10th March, 2014 @ 04:13 pm PDT

The researchers should have waited until they had more complete data before publishing. This preliminary report tells us very little.

I wonder why polystyrene is so common but the much superior polyiso-cyanurate is virtually unknown. I asked for it at Lowe's and the employees (all 4) did not even know it was on the shelf.

Don Duncan
10th March, 2014 @ 05:18 pm PDT

Spray in polyurethane foam does not leave any gaps and goes in fast.

Slowburn
11th March, 2014 @ 02:00 am PDT

It would be interesting to know if the developers of this product have considered using Bamboo, or Lyptus wood: a hybrid of two eucalyptus species (Renewable for harvest in aprox. 15 years).

I wood think both of these "woods" species, would be considered potentially "greener" than other woods, due to their shorter renewable harvesting cycles.

jayedwin98020
11th March, 2014 @ 11:58 am PDT

Because of the mild climate, in Australia very little petroleum based insulation eg polystyrene and polyurethane foam is used in houses; it is mainly used here in fridges and cold transport.

There was an aluminium product that lost considerable favour when it's electrical conductivity led to fatal accidents; but it probably still exists in some Australian houses.

Nearly all Australian house insulation is mineral or glass wool batts with a smattering of treated paper products. The shredded paper has to be treated against fire, insects and mould. It has lost some favour in recent times due to settling and dusting.

I am sure the subject wood foam could/would be similar protected against fire, insects and mould.

Recycled paper is likely to foam by exactly the same process and thus avoid the settling and dusting associated with other paper products.

BTW Wood foam is not exactly a totally new invention, man made cellulosic foams have existed before and paper wasps have been making them for millions of years. i{^_^}

Light_Lab
12th March, 2014 @ 03:24 pm PDT

Benefits of home insulation are reduced energy costs, lower energy usage, and more comfortable temperatures year round.

LizB915
9th July, 2014 @ 12:28 am PDT
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