The inventors, from the University of Missouri-Rolla, have recently been awarded a patent for their new process, using fatty acid methyl esters derived from seed oils.

“We can take a waste that causes many problems in landfills due to its incredibly large volume, and concentrate it into a much smaller volume,” said Michael Maples, co-inventor.

The resulting material depends on the polystyrene content, which can be varied to a maximum of 350-400%, Dr Shubhen Kapila, Professor of Chemistry at the university and Senior Investigator at Missouri-Rolla’s Centre for Environmental Science and Technology, explained to edie. “At such high concentrations the material is a very viscous, semi-solid gel,” he said. “At lower concentrations its viscosity and appearance are similar to vegetable oil.”

However, the researchers were not satisfied with only reducing the volume of polystyrene. “We wanted to produce value-added products from the scrap material,” said Kapila. The project has developed several uses for the polystyrene material, including coatings and resin systems for composite materials such as fibreglass.

There has been considerable interest in the process from companies involved in resort area management, and one firm wants to license the process, said Kapila. With regard to applications of the polystyrene/soya oil product, different commercial companies are testing the materials, he added.

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