New biodegradable foam could replace oil-based plastics

(NaturalNews) Scientists from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, have developed a new biodegradable foam material that has the potential to replace a number of commonly-used plastic foams made from petroleum. The new material — which is made from a type of milk protein, simply clay, and a reactive enzyme — is extremely lightweight and seems to work very well even in heavy-use commercial applications, which makes it a viable alternative to many currently-used plastic and foam products..

Many people are already aware that synthetic plastics are a detriment to the environment. After being dumped in landfills, these plastic materials can take hundreds and even thousands of years to decompose. They also require the continual usage of non-renewable fossil fuels for their production. But according to research published in the journal Biomacromolecules, the new foam material begins to break down very quickly after being disposed of, with as much as thirty percent of it decomposing in as little as 30 days.

By mixing casein, a milk derivative, with ordinary clay and a reactive molecule, researchers were able to create the new “aerogel” material. Based on initial findings, aerogel could replace commonly-used pillow and cushion stuffing, building insulation, foam packaging materials, and other similar materials. It is also one of the lightest and most airy biodegradable foam materials ever created, with its developers actually referring to it as “solid smoke”.

The ingredients used in the new foam material are also derived from renewable sources. So as far as being environmentally friendly, it appears to fit the bill nicely. And by shifting plastic production away from petroleum sources, the new technology could help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Sources for this story include:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-11/acs-bfp111710.php

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/bm100615a
NaturalNews.com

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