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Circular Panels Paves the Way for Eco-Friendly Insulation

Circular Panels is a collaborative endeavor that aims to harness the sound-dampening capabilities of bio-foam while aligning with principles of the circular economy.

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. Image Credit: Gavin Pugh/Aalto University.

Transitioning away from heavy reliance on global petroleum consumption is a significant challenge. Despite its widespread industrial use, there is a surge in eco-friendly innovations striving to mitigate the severe impacts of a continuously warming planet.

Imagine if companies not only revamped their manufacturing processes to be eco-friendly but also reimagined the origin of their resources. This is precisely the approach adopted by Circular Panels, a cutting-edge project emerging from Aalto University.

True to its name, this group centers its business model on the principles of the circular economy, meticulously examining the entire lifespan of each product. Circular Panels, for instance, has developed a sound-insulating bio-foam, showcasing their commitment to this circular approach.

Through fine tuning, we have realized a foam with sound dampening properties comparable to glass wool, but our product is biodegradable and compostable.

Tero Mäkinen, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Applied Physics, Aalto University

Tero Mäkinen is the co-founder of Circular Panels.

The group leverages existing wood pulping processes, effectively eliminating intermediaries while revitalizing a material typically considered waste. Unlike some eco-friendly alternatives that might demand resource-intensive material sourcing, Circular Panels' method enhances upon its petroleum-based equivalent across almost every stage 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.

Tero Mäkinen, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Applied Physics, Aalto University

Their outcome is a lightweight wall panel featuring customizable surface patterns. Expanding their horizons, the group has initiated collaborations with Finnish companies such as Martela and Vallilla to create pilot products.

The project will recieve funding until the summer of 2024 and is moving towards its next objective: securing startup funding essential for scaling up production capabilities by establishing a pilot line.

Circular Panels has formed partnerships with prominent entities such as Ikea, Martela, Metsä, Vallila, and Woodio. This collaborative endeavor represents the culmination of efforts across multiple faculties at Aalto University, including the schools of science, business, and arts.

The project's foundation lies in technology crafted by the Complex Systems and Materials research group, led by Professor Mikko Alava, within Aalto University's Department of Applied Physics. Circular Panels operates as part of the Research to Business program, supported by funding from Business Finland.

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