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Georgia Tech Researchers Develop New Sustainable Lightweight Foam

Researchers at Georgia Tech have named the new sustainable lightweight foam, “capillary foam.” Foam is the substance that occurs at the ocean’s edge or in a root beer float. Most foam by nature is unstable. Foam occurs when pockets of gas are trapped within a liquid or solid substance. Lightweight, dry, compacted foams are a preferred product for the construction of airplanes, buildings and automobiles. Processed foods, pharmaceutical products, health and beauty products, oils and cleaning products utilize foam.

The discovery was part of a study sponsored by the National Science Foundation on foam. A graduate student, Yi Zhang, co-advised by Professor Carson Meredith, from the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, took part in the study. The researcher at Georgia Tech, a university located in Atlanta, Georgia, published research findings from the study in Angelwandte Chemie, on October 3, 2014. Angelwandte Chemie is a scientific journal published by Wiley-VCH on behalf of the German Chemical Society.

The capillary foam is energy efficient and sustainable. The new product is an answer to many of the setbacks encountered with conventional foams. Neither water foam nor oil foam alone are stable. The answer is in the combination. Air and water are the key ingredients in foam. Traditionally, surfactants are added to air and water to stabilize the foam. Surfactants are a substance similar to detergents. Sometimes microscopic particles are added to stabilize foam. However, the researchers at Georgia Tech discovered that a small amount of oil added to the water-based foam produces stability.

The new foam is expected to have a broad impact in the marketplace. Lightweight dry foams could revolutionize the automobile and airplane industry. These industries require a lightweight stable material to conserve on fuel. An airplane may schedule flights with less refueling stops. In today’s economy, buyers are looking for fuel efficient automobiles. In the future, buildings or homes may be constructed from foam.

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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