A Novel Environment Friendly Method For Expansion And Molding Of Polymeric Foam

EPA Grant Number: SU833150
Title: A Novel Environment Friendly Method For Expansion And Molding Of Polymeric Foam
Investigators: Penumadu, Dayakar , Benson, Roberto
Institution: University of Tennessee - Knoxville
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 30, 2006 through May 30, 2007
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The objective of the project is to develop an environment friendly, novel and efficient alternative process for expansion and molding of polymeric foam. Spherical, expandable polymer beads are prepared from liquid monomer suspended in an aqueous medium, containing an expansion agent. The most common expansion agents used are pentane isomers. A major disadvantage of pentane isomers is their high flammability (Flash point –50°C) and volatility. These blowing agents are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and are suspected to be carcinogenic, to be flammable and to contribute to smog. VOC also contribute to the generation of stratospheric ozone. Within the next few years the polymer industries will be forced by new regulations to drastically reduce the level of VOC emission. The current production process of foam uses steam as the energy source for expansion of solid polystyrene beads. The machinery associated with steam generation and transmission takes up a substantial floor space as well as ceiling space in ducting. Multi step process increases maintenance cost and chances of failure. In addition to the gaseous emissions there is also a substantial amount of solid waste generated during the production of EPS using the existing process. The protection of industry human resource and reduction of flammable emissions require expensive plant ventilation and gas collection systems.


An appropriate approach for reducing the health hazards associated with production of EPS foam is the replacement of the currently used expansion agents. We propose a chemical reagent that is benign, recyclable and susceptible to heating by appropriate electromagnetic radiation. This new process would also lead to a clean, economic and efficient production, drastically reducing raw material cost, cost of maintaining safety standards and reducing shop floor space.

Expected Results:

Currently we have developed novel efficient methods for incorporating benign expansion agents within a polymer bead matrix. We are seeking funds for further research and development of efficient energy sources (Infrared/microwave radiation) for expansion and molding of the beads (Popcorn effect). With the ongoing project we also expect to generate environmental awareness among the present and future industrial community through SPE (Society of Plastics Engineers) meetings, seminars, poster presentations and teaching modules incorporated in undergraduate material science classes.

Supplemental Keywords:

Industrial nations, packaging, insulation, structural foam, energy management, toxic exposure, human health, stratospheric ozone, industrial regulations, industrial pollution, clean technology, green chemistry, polymer science and engineering, laser induced polymerization, selective heating by radiation, recyclable raw material, training,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Environmental Chemistry, Technology, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Chemicals Management, Environmental Engineering, clean technologies, cleaner production, environmentally conscious manufacturing, environmental sustainability, polymer formulation, recycled polymers, alternative materials, clean manufacturing, polymeric materials, polymerization chemistry, energy efficiency, emission reduction, polymer design, green chemistry, polymer industry

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report