Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have created a Styrofoam substitute made mostly from milk proteins and clay. Not only is it lightweight and made from readily-available materials, but unlike its inspiration, it's biodegradable.
The discovery of this new material was actually an accident. When a student freeze-dried clay, the result was something the scientists wanted to work with. The team started mixing in different materials and when the milk protein casein was used, a fluffy, foam-like material was produced.
The final recipe is pretty darn simple: clay, water, casein powder and a tiny bit of a glycerol-based material all mixed in a kitchen blender. The dirt smoothie is then put into molds and freeze-dried and there you go: biodegradable packaging foam.
The material has all the same properties as Styrofoam, keeping its integrity up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Where it differs is of course in its ability to break down. In tests conducted by the USDA, a third of the material broke down in 45 days.
The discovery has led to a new company called Aeroclay, Inc. The company will start experimenting with more alternatives to plastic materials that are milk based instead of oil based. One large hurdle facing them -- make sure the end result doesn't smell like spoiled milk.
via Discovery News
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