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Corn starch may have a future as a foam packaging material

By Chemical Engineering |

Foams based on corn starch may one day be substituted for polystyrene foams through technology being developed by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS, Beltsville, Md.; http://www.ars.usda.gov). The ARS Western Regional Research Center (Albany, Calif.) is working on two processes. One makes a product similar to expanded polystyrene and the other a fiber-reinforced foam. In the former process, corn starch powder is mixed with plasticizers and about 20% water and put through an extruder to produce a solid string. The material is dried and pelletized, then the pellets are pre-expanded, put into molds and heated to above 120°C to form molded shapes, such as cups or packaging material. In the second process, cellulose fibers from wood pulping are dispersed in an aqueous starch slurry at about 100°C. The mixture is cooled, more starch is added, along with plasticizer, and the material is extruded and pelletized. In this case the pellets are melted in a second extruder at about 170°C and emerge from the extruder as a string of expanded foam because of the sudden pressure drop. In a commercial process the material would be extruded as a sheet, from which dinner plates or other shallow containers could be produced under heat…
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