Biopolymer Network finds success with renewable alternative to expanded polystyrene

10 February 2014

The Biopolymer Network is taking the world by storm, with agreements signed around the globe to facilitate the evaluation of Zealafoam™, a sustainably produced alternative to expanded polystyrene.

ZealaFoam™ is a bioplastic alternative to expanded polystyrene (EPS) which can be used for packaging, sporting goods, furniture and insulation. The product is projected to progressively substitute EPS over time. 

Made from renewable sources that generate lactic acid, (e.g. fermented sugars from corn or other biomass) the foaming process uses a ‘green’ blowing agent, carbon dioxide, instead of hydrocarbons. 

“The raw materials are all renewable and readily available. Even the CO2 blowing agent can easily be recovered during the process and reused. It’s a truly green process, using genuinely renewable and compostable material, and adapting to existing manufacturing plants with minimal investment – it’s win-win all round,” says Sarah Heine, Chief Executive of Biopolymer Network (BPN).

ZealaFoam™ can be recycled where the infrastructure is in place, and will degrade benignly if composted in an industrial composter, to produce humus, water and carbon dioxide. ZealaFoam™ can also be safely incinerated. Products made from ZealaFoam™ have lower environmental impacts throughout from feedstocks, manufacturing and end-of-life, compared with EPS.

BPN has built its own ZealaFoam™ pilot plant in Nelson alongside an EPS manufacturer. While the resin beads require impregnation prior, ZealaFoam™ can be  foamed and moulded on existing EPS production lines with very little modification.

Through this and several industrial trials at EPS plants in NZ and overseas, fishboxes, helmets and other items have been successfully produced and tested, with several initial sales made. BPN are now in the process of working with NZ manufacturers to scale up to commercial volumes.

BNP is recognised as a global leader in biopolymer foam technologies, with many new opportunities for New Zealand and international collaborations opening up.

“ZealaFoam™ not only protects the market share of New Zealand exporters using EPS, it also enables access to new markets where sustainability is key and the use of traditional EPS is frowned upon,” says Ms Heine.

BPN has received national recognition for ZealaFoam™ and was awarded the 2013 Innovation Excellence in Research category. The award celebrates ‘those that have started on the research and commercialisation journey and who have completed a research project that has excellent potential and impact’. 

You can listen to Sarah Heine share BPN’s success story at the Inspiring Sustainability in the Bay event, held in Tauranga on 27 February. Book your tickets here.