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uni'wissen 02-2012 ENG

At the very beginning, humans lived in caves, making their home out of that which gave them the most protection with the least work. Then they began to design their own dwellings: animal skins stretched over a wooden frame be- came a tent, stacked tree branches a hut. It wasn’t until much later that humans began using steel, glass, and plastics to build their homes, making tents into office complexes, wooden huts into skyscrapers. The change that is now upon us seems at first thought to be a step back – away from plastics, which are packed into walls as foam to keep houses warm in the winter. In the future, this function will again be fulfilled by a material that might initially seem obsolete: wood. A research team at the University of Freiburg led by Prof. Dr. Marie-Pierre Laborie is working on the project “BioFoamBark.” The project part- ners include the Institute of Forest Utilization and Work Science, the Freiburg Materials Re- search Center (FMF), and other scientists from universities and companies throughout Europe. The goal is to develop foams for insulating homes out of substances from tree bark. The project is being supported by the Agency for Re- newable Resources with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Con- sumer Protection. Getting More from Wood There are many good reasons to replace con- ventional synthetic insulating materials with their competitors from nature: Wood is a resource that is readily available and that is used by industry on a large scale. An estimated twelve million cu- bic meters of bark are converted into biofuel each year in Europe alone. “But it’s possible to get even more from the complex and versatile material wood than to simply process it into wood chips or biofuel and then burn it directly,” says Laborie. “We go to the companies that pro- 29