Swiss researchers develop recyclable, naturally-grown insulation

Biochar (Empa)
Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have created “biochar”, a plant-based insulation material that can capture and bind carbon dioxide.

The material is made from waste products from agriculture and forestry and after use can be ploughed into soil to improve fertility.

One advantage of the heat-treated material is that it can permanently store carbon, unlike alternatives such as wood or cellulose insulation that emit it when they break down.

The team found that partially replacing insulation materials such as mineral wool or expanded polystyrene with biochar would reduce carbon generation by half a million tonnes annually, the equivalent of 1% of Switzerland’s yearly emissions.

Looking forward, the researchers will continue testing the material to ensure it can continue to be used as fertiliser, will work as thermal insulation and will meet fire safety standards.

Jannis Wernery, from Empa’s building energy materials and components lab, said: “There is still a lot to do before the idea can be put into practice.”

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