Mind & Matter

 

Scientists Develop Bio-based Resins for Building Construction

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Non-toxic thernoset foam made from plants. Image courtesy of the University of Amsterdam.

 

The race to produce bioplastic alternatives for petroleum-based polymers not only includes thermoplastics, but also thermosets—plastics such as polyurethane (PU) composed of cross-linked polymers that cure irreversibly. Thermosets are especially important in building construction, as they are commonly used in wood composites and insulation.

Petroleum-based thermosets lack a stellar environmental record. They contain toxins and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during and after curing. For this reason, Dr. Richard Wool at the University of Delaware claims that “the whole world is rushing to replace PU in buildings, automotive and domestic applications.”

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have announced their development of biobased thermoset resins that are nontoxic and biodegradable. Using a variety of plant species—including inedible grasses and trees to avoid competition with food supplies—UvA scientists Gadi Rothenberg and Albert Alberts have developed both thin films as well as rigid foams with their new method.

According to the researchers, they hope their new technology will replace the use of petroleum-based thermosets in ubiquitous building products like medium density fiberboard (MDF), medium density overlay (MDO), and polystyrene (PS). Although the development is likely to take time, the use of completely bio-based thermosets could eliminate some of the worst VOC problems in buildings.

 

 
 

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.