Brussels, 15 Nov 2004
A Dutch-German Eureka project has developed a system for manufacturing polystyrene beads that does not release VOCs into the environment.
Polystyrene foam is widely used in a variety of forms, including building insulation, packaging and drinking cups. All types of foam are commercially produced from a single starting material - high-density spherical beads of expandable polystyrene (EPS).
The beads are expanded and moulded by product manufacturers using a blowing agent. Current practice involves using pentane, an inflammable, volatile organic compound (VOC). Up to half of the pentane remains in the EPS after processing and is slowly released into the atmosphere during storage and use.
'Concern is growing throughout Europe and the USA about increasing pentane emissions, and legislation to limit it is already planned in Switzerland, Austria and Sweden,' says Wolfgang Teubert, Managing Director of German partner Teubert Maschinenbau.
The alternative, developed by Teubert Maschinenbau and Nova Chemicals from the Netherlands, is the world's first water-blown expandable polystyrene bead.
'The new patented process creates a molecular bond encapsulating starch in a shell of polystyrene,' explains EPS research team leader at Nova Chemicals, Willem van Liemt. 'The chemically bonded starch absorbs micro-drops of water, which becomes a safer, more environmentally friendly blowing agent inside the beads.'
The project team may well launch the technology in the US first, where stricter legislative controls on VOC release are in place.
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