Research team uses lignin to create foam free from toxic chemicals
The research team from Clamson University. Photo: Clamson University.

Research team uses lignin to create foam free from toxic chemicals

Publicerat 14 September, 2021

A research team in the Department of Automotive Engineering at Clemson University used lignin to develop a new way of making polyurethane foam without toxic chemicals.

The team at Clamson University, South Carolina, USA,  calls its invention nonisocyanate polyurethane (NIPU) foam because no isocyanates are used to make it. Isocyanates are a type of chemical widely used in the manufacture of traditional polyurethane foams.

– The core advantage of NIPU foam is replacing the really toxic part of making polyurethanes,” says James Sternberg, senior scientist at the lab in an article at Clemson University webpage.

– When you see someone spraying foam insulation in your house or spraying a polyurethane coating on something, they are in full PPE. One of those components that they are spraying is really bad for you, really toxic, he says.

A sustainable product

Srikanth Pilla, Professor of Automotive Engineering, founding director of the Clemson Composites Center and the leader of the research group said that when they started the team had no idea it would end up with the foam it did.

– The goal was to create a polyurethane foam using lignin but using an approach that is different to what others have done and yet make it the most sustainable and 100% biobased as tested by radiocarbon analysis, says Srikanth Pilla.

2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Award

Now the foam has been rewarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

The true innovation of this chemistry lies in the formation of reactive precursors using non-toxic and 100% biobased reagents according to the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency

– In the past, lignin has been made into a reactive precursor using oxypropylation with propylene oxide and added diisocyanates to mimic the synthesis of conventional polyurethane foams. With the lignin-based NIPU foams, the curing agent is derived from environmentally friendly vegetable oils, says the EPA.

Read the full story here.