Smart Foams project
The Smart Foams research project at Aalto University uses artificial intelligence to develop wood-based foams. Wood-based foam materials can replace Styrofoam and bubble wrap in packaging, for example. The researchers strive to optimize the properties of the foam. A mixture of lignin, wood fibre and laponite (nanoclay), for example, can be processed into shock and heat resistant foam and used instead of plastic.
Lignin is the compound that binds wood fibres together. As a dried foam it is hard and water resistant and even conducts electricity.
Applications and markets
The project has received funding from Business Finland to look for commercial applications and markets for the new material. Commercial production and use as packaging, for example, requires that the foam is truly biodegradable and cheap and that it can be produced in considerable quantities.
The foam can also be used as insulation material in construction, being light in weight, heat-insulating and strong. It is water-resistant and therefore fire-safe.
The foam is very similar to cork, but is tens of times lighter.