Energy and Cost Saving Method to Produce Environmentally Friendly Polymeric Foam

Engineering Technologies for Licensing

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The Technology

Polystyrene foam is used in many applications, from beverage and food containers to insulation for residential and commercial construction.  However, the manufacturing process for the foam is energy-intensive and environmentally unfriendly. The source material used for the foam contains an expansion agent, pentane, which is a flammable and toxic gas released into the atmosphere when the material is expanded to create foam.  Additionally, today’s current manufacturing process requires two applications of heat via steam generation, which is expensive, both from a capital infrastructure and an operational perspective, as well as time-consuming.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee have developed a new method for producing low and high density polymeric foam using a manufacturing technique that greatly reduces the energy, space and equipment required.  The method includes a non-toxic, zero-emissions expansion agent that can be recaptured and reused, and also uses microwave (instead of steam) to efficiently heat and expand the foam faster and more efficiently. Additionally, eliminating use of steam allows for use of less expensive and longer-lasting molds for foam products.

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