Styrofoam poses a big problem for landfills because it takes up a lot of space.
But the amount of polystyrene foam going into landfills could be reduced significantly through a process developed by researchers at UMR’s Center for Environmental Science and Technology. The patented process uses fatty acid methyl esters derived from seed oils, such as soybean oil, to dissolve polystyrene. These esters work well as solvents for Styrofoam and are environmentally friendly to boot, say Shubhen Kaila, professor of chemistry and a senior investigator at CEST, and CEST Director Virgil Flanigan, ME’60, MS ME’62, PhD ME’68. Kapila and Flanigan invented the process along with Michael Maples, a Ph.D. candidate in analytical chemistry.
"We can take a waste that causes many problems in landfills due to its incredibly large volume, and concentrate it into a much smaller volume," says Maples.
The researchers weren’t satisfied with simply reducing the volume of waste, however. "We wanted to produce value-added products from the scrap material," Kapila says. So they have developed several uses for the material, including coatings and resin systems for composite materials such as fiberglass.