Existing home insulation is often made using fossil fuels. Can a new type made from popcorn offer an eco-friendly alternative?
Popcorn could soon be be used as a natural alternative to manmade insulation, after scientists found a way of turning the film snack into an eco-friendly building material.
Home insulation has become a pertinent topic in recent years, particularly in the context of the climate crisis. Keeping properties warm (and cool) is one of the main challenges in the race to net zero, with buildings generating around 40 per cent of global emissions.
There are also questions about the sustainability of some existing insulation materials. Many are made out of plastic – a byproduct of fossil fuels – and are hard to dispose of. Then there are the safety concerns, as highlighted by the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. Seventy two people perished in the blaze, which spread rapidly due to the building’s external cladding and insulation.
Offering what they say is a safe and sustainable alternative to existing home insulation are scientists at Göttingen University, Germany, who have devised a technique for turning popcorn into insulation boards.
The team behind the innovation said the boards had “excellent thermal insulation properties and good protection against fire”. They added: “the great advantage of this granular material is that it is a plant-based, environmentally friendly and a sustainable alternative to the products derived from petroleum currently used in the industry”.
It remains to be seen how long the popcorn boards will last compared to manmade alternatives, and whether they might attract certain types of hungry wildlife.
Nevertheless, Göttingen University has signed a licence agreement with Bachl Group, a building materials company, for the commercial use of the process and the products.
Professor Alireza Kharazipour, head of the team that developed the popcorn boards, said: “This new process, based on that of the plastics industry, enables the cost-effective production of insulation boards at an industrial scale. Especially in the field of insulation in construction, this ensures that natural insulation materials are no longer just niche products.”
Main image: Yulia Khlebnikova