Nanowood is a cheap, green alternative to harmful styrofoam

Styrofoam, despite being terrible for the environment, is still used commonly for products ranging from coffee cups to packaging material. We've seen proposed alternatives surface over the years, some of them using mushroom mycelium as a biodegradable solution, and now a new option joins them: "nanowood." This product is made using cellulose nanofibrils, the end result being a strong, lightweight, thermally insulating material.

Unlike styrofoam, nanowood is biodegradable. Another advantage is its superior strength, which exceeds that of other thermal management materials like styrofoam, wool, and polymer aerogels. This strength is due to the use of cellulose nanofibrils that have been bonded in a way that produces high compressive strength.

Nanowood is fabricated directly from wood, hence its name. The material, according to a newly published study detailing the product, has a very low level of thermal conductivity. The combination of benefits, including its low density and high strength, make nanowood a "material highly attractive for practical thermal insulation applications," the researchers explain.

The material is made by stripping the extra bits from wood, to put it simply. New Scientist explains that cheap and easily obtained chemicals are used for that process, including sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. This process leaves behind cellulose nanofibers, which are then arranged in a way that makes them both strong and resistant to heat.

Nanowood could be used in a variety of applications thanks to its properties, including as an insulating material for buildings. Unlike many existing insulators, though, nanowood is relatively unique in its ability to both resist heat and dissipate heat that does penetrate it, preventing it from building up. Coupled with the very low cost to make nanowood, the material is a viable option across many industries.

SOURCE: Science Advances