Sustainable insulating material for shipping temperature-sensitive products

3 cm thick fiber insulation mats (left, based on waste paper; right, based on cellulose), dry-processed, with a density of about 30 kilograms per cubic meter.
Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Engineering

Researchers at the Institute of Natural Products Engineering at TU Dresden have developed an insulating material made from recycled paper for shipping temperature-sensitive foods and medicines. As part of a research and development project, the fundamentals were laid for the production of ecologically sustainable fresh food shipping packaging and thus for an alternative to environmentally harmful Styrofoam and plastic packaging.

Thermally insulated packaging keeps shipping goods within a certain temperature range. The packaging provides passive cooling, often with additional coolants, without energy input. Currently, temperature-controlled shipping predominantly uses environmentally harmful packaging made from raw materials that are difficult to recycle.

As part of the research project, waste paper was processed on the basis of a special drying process to produce fiber-based insulating elements. Thomas Schrinner, project coordinator at the Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Engineering, says: “The particular challenge was to adapt the preparation process and develop special fiber formulations so that the fiber mats have a particularly low density with a sufficiently narrow pore size distribution and the insulating properties reach their optimum.” Functional tests under practical conditions have shown that the insulating elements developed are capable of replacing conventional insulating materials such as Styrofoam due to their low thermal conductivity. “Due to the low thermal conductivity and higher heat storage capacity of cellulose, the insulating properties of the sustainable fiber mats even surpass those of most other materials,” Schrinner said.

Even though the fiber insulation elements are wrapped in film due to potential contact to food, the fresh shipping packaging stabilized by an outer carton is a fully recyclable end product. “At seven percent, the proportion of film in the overall system is so low that the shipping packaging can be fed into the waste paper cycle without hesitation. Nevertheless, film wrapping is only an interim solution. We have already started developing sustainable alternatives, such as cellulose-based barrier layers.”

The existing insulation design has already proven itself as a system solution for the mail order business. The fresh food shipping packaging is distributed by easy2cool GmbH, which tested and developed the manufacturing process for configurable insulating elements and overall packaging systems as a cooperation partner.

About TU Dresden
TU Dresden is one of the top universities in Germany and Europe: strong in research, first-class in the diversity and quality of its study programs, closely networked with culture, business and society. As a modern university, with its five Schools and 18 faculties, it offers a broad scientific spectrum like few universities in Germany. It is the largest university in Saxony. The TU Dresden’s large campus family is made up of around 32,000 students and approximately 8,000 employees – 600 of whom are professors. TU Dresden has been one of Germany’s eleven Universities of Excellence since 2012. On July 19, 2019, it was able to successfully defend this title.

About The Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Engineering
The Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Technology, including the paper technology working group, teaches and conducts research in the field of materials development and processing under the direction of Professor André Wagenführ. Materials based on lignocellulose as well as from other natural fibers are the focus of research and development but also in teaching. In addition to relevant topics on the design and manufacture of differently structured materials, technological aspects of further processing and plant and mechanical engineering up to tool development are also investigated. One focus is the tempering of existing materials such as native wood for application-related property modification.

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Thomas Schrinner
Technische Universität Dresden
Institute for Natural Materials Engineering
Chair of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Engineering
Phone: +49 351 463-38026

Media Contact

Konrad Kästner Pressestelle
Technische Universität Dresden

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