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NSF Awards UMaine Grads $225,000 to Create Eco-Friendly Thermal Insulation Foam Board

An Orono-based company founded by two University of Maine graduates has been awarded $224,996 from the National Science Foundation to create a prototype for the first completely eco-friendly thermal insulation foam board.

Nadir Yildirim, a graduate of UMaine’s innovation engineering program and current Ph.D. student in the Wood Science and Technology Program in the School of Forest Resources, and Alexander Chasse, a 2013 civil engineering graduate from UMaine who works at the university conducting nanomaterial research, created Revolution Research, Inc. to develop recyclable and reusable products using cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) for several industries.

“I believe RRI will open a new page in the insulation industry,” says Yildirim, the project’s principal investigator.

The pair started RRI in 2014 to develop and commercialize replacements of petroleum-based thermal insulation products. RRI’s current focus is the creation and commercialization of thermal and acoustical insulation foam boards for use in the construction industry.

One of the largest uses of energy is heating and cooling buildings, according to the researchers, which drives construction companies to search for products that improve insulation performance.

Foam board insulation products currently on the market are produced from petroleum-based chemicals. RRI aims to use CNFs and green polymers to produce an eco-friendly thermal insulation board with a lower carbon footprint as well as the necessary mechanical and thermal properties to meet market needs. The researchers also hope to offer the board at a comparable price to current insulation products.

CNFs have the ability to reinforce weak materials, permitting new composite products. The raw material, cellulose, is abundant and obtainable from renewable sources including plants and sea animals. Green polymers that will be used in the project also are a readily available renewable resource, but are weak and brittle without CNF reinforcement.

“RRI’s novel foam boards will not only be better for the environment than current petroleum-based products, but will also provide improved energy efficiency,” Yildirim says. “With a better thermal insulation you can save the environment; you can save lots of money.”

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I project also will allow the team to rent space and buy equipment for a laboratory. Currently RRI doesn’t have any employees, but within the next five years, Yildirim hopes the company will have its own Maine-based production facility with about 30 employees.

Successful completion of the project will provide the opportunity for Phase II, which would allow RRI to apply for a grant up to $750,000.

Since the company began, RRI has received a $5,000 award from the Maine Technology Institute, as well as $5,000 for winning first place at the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge, the state’s largest student entrepreneurship competition.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

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