Fraunhofer CSE selected to develop new bio-based phenolic foam

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The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems CSE has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Office (BTO) to develop a new bio-based, nonflammable, inexpensive phenolic foam for use as building insulation. Fraunhofer CSE is working with partners from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Atlas Roofing Corporation.

During 1980-90s, phenolic foam acquired a bad reputation after a large number of commercial metal roofs across the U.S. failed due to the intensive corrosion that occurred in roof decks where phenolic foam insulation was in contact with moisture. Even though phenolic foam has higher thermal resistivity and fire resistance than plastic foams, phenolic foam usage declined sharply after these failures.

With the award from BTO, Fraunhofer CSE aims to develop a mechanically stronger phenolic foam with use of  low-cost materials, including biomass lignocelluloses (a biological material derived from plant or plant-based materials). To reduce the phenolic foam corrosive issues, Fraunhofer CSE proposes to reduce the use of sulphonic acid catalyst, a highly acidic component, and replace it with a bio-based, less acidic organic acid catalyst. By doing so, there will be less chance of the phenolic foam causing corrosion of metal decks or structural members.

Led by Fraunhofer CSE, the project team consists of experts in the fields of building energy efficiency materials and technologies as well as leaders from the foam insulation industry. Notable team members include: Dr. Jan Kosny, Building Enclosure Program Lead at Fraunhofer CSE (Project P.I.); Dr. Art J. Ragauskas, Professor/Governor’s Chair in Biorefining at University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Dr. Nitin Shukla, Building Enclosure Group Technical Staff Member at Fraunhofer CSE; and James D. Thornsberry  and other insulation and foam production experts from Atlas Roofing Corporation, a major North American manufacturer of foam insulation.

Currently, the team is producing the project’s first phenolic foam samples.  Over the next few months, they plan to conduct sensitivity studies over the cell size, cell wall thickness, and develop procedures for foaming and increase of the foam pH level.

For more information on the project, read the full project objectives here.

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