Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are developing a new technique for manufacturing a substance that helps insulate homes and is cheap, durable, and biodegradable. The key is a film made of corn husks or popcorn shells with particles of starch attached to it that can be developed with automated machines and baked to form a hard shell for insulation or burn-resistant outer layers.
“We can take anything we make here in the lab, whether it’s fungus, plastics, protein crystals, or corn husks, and take it through the plant and make it work into really robust functional materials,” Ed Butler, a UC Berkeley materials sciences graduate student and one of the inventors of the new material, told The Atlantic. The material is especially well suited for insulation because it soaks up a lot of heat but doesn’t retain that heat once inside a building. It’s also waterproof and can replace conventional insulating films with that form of insulator in homes. It’s also a lot cheaper, and the material doesn’t require extensive toxicity testing.
The newly invented insulation material offers plenty of potential benefits for energy efficiency and environmental protection — and could save homeowners thousands of dollars in energy costs over its lifetime. It’s also easily a 100 percent renewable material made from renewable resources.
Some of the material is being made by using a laser to etch the pellets of starch out of the straws. The substance has the same properties as cellulose, the material found in leaves, bark, and wood. Another method involves covering the straws with insoluble polymers that are then baked to form a hard shell that can be used as insulation. And, because the starch kernel forms the base for the substance, it doesn’t require any refined sugars.
Read the full story at The Atlantic.
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