While it is used all over the world as a light packaging and insulation
material, EPS (expanded polystyrene) is a problem as waste. This is why VTT
Technical Research Centre of Finland is currently developing an affordable and
environmentally friendly alternative for polystyrene from PLA bioplastic,
which is derived from organic sources.
- EDITED VERSION published on 2.
Dec. at 14:20. The changes concern combustion results and
recyclability of EPS.
The annual production volume of EPS is 5–6 million tonnes per year. In a
modern incineration plant, the burning process of EPS polystyrene is managed
well and results mainly in carbon dioxide and water. However, in a deficient
combustion process harmful compounds are created. EPS polystyrene is a
recyclable material, but in practice the material often ends up in landfills
or is combusted.
PLA (polylactide) is a bioplastic made from renewable materials with the help
of lactic acid. VTT is investigating methods of foaming bioplastics to make
beads that are further refined into products such as insulation sheets, using
methods typical of EPS manufacturing processes.
The expansion of the bioplastic by foaming is carried out with consideration
for the environment, using carbon dioxide. The density and heat insulation
properties of the new biomaterial are similar to those of polystyrene. VTT
plans to take its development work closer to industrial processing and to
proceed from laboratory work to factory testing. Therefore, in order to
collaborate in this development it is now looking for partners from among
companies operating in the field.
PLA products similar to polystyrene already exist, but their problem is their
high price. In collaboration with companies operating in the field, VTT will
be looking for new and more efficient production methods to enable the
manufacturing of affordable products.
VTT is also developing a process for PLA based on extrusion foaming, in order
to replace polystyrene in traffic and packaging applications, for example.