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Turning Recycled Plastics Into Green Insulation
Developing a New Generation of Insulation Materials for the Green Building Industry
The world’s oceans are awash with discarded plastics of all types. Landfills are bloated with all things plastic—from shopping bags and Styrofoam meat trays to tossed-out tennis shoes and broken toys. But some of these abandoned plastics might have the potential to keep buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer, reducing energy costs and advancing the green building industry here in Oregon.
Worldwide, experts agree that the best way to decrease the energy buildings consume is to increase and improve insulation. Most current insulation materials have been on the market for a long time and many are marginal insulators with poor durability or recycle-ability. It is well-known that plastics have low thermal conductivity, make excellent insulation materials, are extremely durable, and can be recycled (potentially many times).
Oregon BEST-funded researchers at Oregon State University are teaming with Portland-based startup company, Insulastics, Inc., to study the thermal conductivity and heat transfer of plastics that could be used as insulation packets and green building structural composites. If successful, this research could revolutionize the insulation industry, and dramatically reduce heating and cooling costs.
OSU chemical engineering professor Skip Rochefort is working with OSU wood science and engineering professors John Simonsen and Lech Muszynski to find ways to remove and use various types of post consumer, recycled plastics from landfills with the goal of creating a new generation of durable green building insulation materials. Ultimately, this Oregon BEST research team hopes to establish an Oregon-based research capability in green building applications of recycled plastics and biopolymers.
“We’re partnering with Inuslastics Inc., which has developed a way to encase shredded, fluffed, or foamed recycled plastics inside durable plastic shells that can be extruded or otherwise manufactured into a variety of shapes, sizes, and strengths for use as building materials that have superior insulation characteristics,” says Rochefort. “Insulastics has identified a variety of typically un-recycled or poorly recycled, post-consumer plastics that have this potential. Our research will test these materials for thermal conductivity, structural integrity, and durability.”
This research project might prove that previously unused plastics, destined for landfills or the environment, can indeed be recycled and play a valuable role in energy efficiency. The project will also help ensure Oregon’s role as a national leader in green building research, design, and materials.
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