News

Research project turns waste into sound-absorbing solutions with biodegradable foam

Circular Panels represents a cross-disciplinary effort to capitalize on the sound dampening properties of bio-foam while adhering to circular economy principles
A man holding two small foam boards stands in a lab room.
Postdoctoral researcher Tero Mäkinen is the co-founder of Circular Panels—a project based on technology developed by the Complex Systems and Materials research group at the Department of Applied Physics. Photo: Gavin Pugh/Aalto University

Weaning off global petroleum consumption is no small task. Its industrial applications are ubiquitous, but green innovations abound in the race to curb the worst effects of an ever-warming planet.

What if companies took these innovations a step further by not only cleaning up the manufacturing of products, but by also rethinking their source? This is the strategy of Circular Panels, one of the latest projects to come out of Aalto University.

As the name suggests, the group bases its business practices on the circular economy, where the whole lifecycle of any given product is considered with scrutiny. In the case of Circular Panels, they have built a sound-insulating bio-foam.

‘Through fine tuning, we have realized a foam with sound dampening properties comparable to glass wool, but our product is biodegradable and compostable,’ says Tero Mäkinen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Applied Physics and co-founder of Circular Panels.

Square piece of a circular panel material
Photo: Anne Kinnunen / Aalto University

The group exploits existing wood pulping processes—simultaneously cutting out the middleman and bringing new life to a material otherwise seen as waste. Whereas some green alternatives to everyday products may require resource-intensive materials sourcing, Circular Panels’ approach improves upon its petroleum-based counterpart at nearly every step of production. 

‘We start with cellulose fibers that we recover from the side streams of certain industrial wood processing operations. We then create a wet foam that is dried and modified to provide the performance outcomes we desire,’ Mäkinen says. 

The result is a lightweight wall panel with customizable surface patterns. The group has even begun collaborating with Finnish companies like Martela and Vallilla to develop pilot products.

The Circular Panels project is presently funded through the summer of 2024. Mäkinen said the group’s next goal is to secure necessary startup funding to expand the production capabilities by building a pilot line.

Current Circular Panels commercial partners include Ikea, Martela, Metsä, Vallila, and Woodio. Circular Panels is the product of collaboration across Aalto University’s schools of science, business, and arts. 

This project is based on technology developed by the Complex Systems and Materials research group at Aalto University’s Department of Applied Physics, headed by Professor Mikko Alava. Circular Panels is part of the Research to Business program funded by Business Finland.

Circular Panels will be at Aalto's booth at Slush on December 1, 2023. At Slush, Aalto will also present other ambitious solutions for health and well-being challenges, imaging, energy storage, sustainable design, and nutrient recycling.

Aalto at Slush 2022

Aalto at Slush: 12 ways we change the world

The Aalto stand is home to smart, sustainability-driven science.

Impact
The Visentools objects enable people to tell stories with visual metaphors. From left: Thomas Tuominen, Janina Saarnio, Robin Gustafsson, Mikko Illi and Shena Saj. Photo: Susanna Oksanen.

A new visual teamwork tool based on metaphors

A typical problem in teamwork is an imbalance in participation – a few team members are active but not everyone's voice is heard. The Visentools project uses visual tools and haptic feedback to make workshops and team meetings more participatory and meaningful. The project is funded by Business Finland and has been piloted since May.

News

Complex Systems and Materials (CSM)

Applies statistical physics to a wide variety of cross-disciplinary topics.

Department of Applied Physics
  • Published:
  • Updated:

Read more news

 Shankar Deka is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Automation.
Research & Art Published:

Robotics needs safe behavior patterns

Robotics and autonomous systems are developing rapidly. Algorithms that withstand disturbances and uncertainties in the system model and environment are critical for development.
Open-top chambers in a tundra environment.
Press releases Published:

Understanding climate warming impacts on carbon release from the tundra

Tundras could transform from carbon sinks into a carbon source, exacerbating the effects of climate change
People registration to SSD
Press releases Published:

Program now available for the sustainability event of the year - Speakers include economist Kate Raworth and president Tarja Halonen

This year, Sustainability Science Days, a joint event of Aalto University and the University of Helsinki is collaborating with the world's largest Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress SRI. The event will bring together 2,000 experts to solve global sustainability challenges.
Tissue Culture Spinner, a machine with many test tubes attached.
Research & Art Published:

A new way to do controlled experiments in medicine: simulate the control

Generative AI could augment randomized controlled trials.