Styropor® named Brand of the Century
Editor Florian Langenscheidt presents over 200 champions of German business, including the Styropor® brand from BASF, in the illustrated book Deutsche Standards—Marken des Jahrhunderts 2019 (German standards—brands of the century 2019), published by ZEIT Verlagsgruppe.
What is it that makes Styropor® such an iconic brand?
The material that everyone now knows as Styropor® was discovered by chance in 1949 by the chemist Fritz Stastny, while actually in search of effective cable insulation. In one test, he mixed petroleum ether as the blowing agent with a solution of polystyrene and monostyrene, using benzoyl peroxide as a catalyst. He carried out the experiment in a shoe polish tin because it could be closed to be gas tight. After opening it, he recorded in his laboratory notebook: “Clear solution, stored at room temperature until 1 December 1949. Hard, transparent disc removed.” He then intended to keep the sample in the tin in the drying oven until evening. However, the scientist forgot it was there and, next morning, instead of the disc, found a stiff strand of foam that had lifted the loosened lid of the tin by 25 centimetres. Numerous experiments followed, in which Fritz Stastny successfully reduced the density of the material even further and created uniform, small pores—until he finally produced the foam Styropor®.
In 1951, BASF registered the Styropor® brand and applied to patent the product. In the following years , products made of expandable polystyrene (EPS) conquered the global market, as portrayed in the 1963 classic film Schaumgeboren (Born of foam). The packaging sector is inconceivable without the shaped elements made of Styropor®—these are highly compression-proof and moisture-resistant but still very light. Boxes or cases made of the white foam ensure that products are stored and transported safely. Its insulating property enables sensitive goods, such as foodstuffs, to be protected from the effects of temperature.
The foam consists of up to 98% air, which also gives it heat and cold insulating properties. The rigid foam boards can therefore be used as insulation material.
BASF is pursuing a variety of solutions for the environmentally friendly manufacture and recycling of Styropor®. In production, for instance, fossil raw materials can be replaced by renewable feedstock as part of the biomass balance approach. The result is biomass-balanced Styropor®, Styropor® BMB for short, which has the same properties as its fossil equivalent. This reduces CO2 emissions and saves fossil resources.
Furthermore Styropor® can be recycled in various ways: one possible process is ChemCycling. For example, plastic wastes from the “yellow bag” (light plastic packaging), which cannot be mechanically recycled due to contaminants or insufficient quantities, are processed into new raw materials. Styropor® is thus preserved in the circular economy.