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A new environmentally friendly cactus-based thermal insulation does not contain any toxic substances and the material is 100% recyclable and reusable

A new environmentally friendly cactus-based thermal insulation was created by the University of Palermo. Sicilian researchers, led by Prof. Antonio De Vecchi of the University of Palermo, have created an innovative eco-friendly building product by drying and crushing the leaves of prickly pear. According to the research team, the innovative cactus-based thermal insulation, which has a thermal conductivity of 0.071-0.057 W/mK, may represent a valid alternative to more conventional materials used to enhance the energy performance in building.

A typical Mediterranean landscape

The prickly pear, also called Opuntia ficus-indica, is a fleshy bush or small tree, native to the desert zones of Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Since it was brought to Europe in the 16th century, the plant is widespread across the Mediterranean areas. Today, Sicily is the world’s second exporter of prickly pear fruits.

The cladodes of the Opuntia ficus-indica

Taking advantage of the great amount of by-product resulting from the yearly pruning of the prickly pear, the academic researchers started to investigate a way to turn the wasted material into a valuable new ecological building product. To produce the rigid insulation panel, the cladodes of the Opuntia ficus-indica are initially pressed, then dried and shredded before resin based binder is added to the obtained granules.

The granules obtained from the shredded plants.
The end product in a rigid panel form.

The patented thermal material has so far attracted large manufacturers of the building industry as well as leading car makers. The outcome of the research project is very promising.

It is envisaged that the novel technology could be, very soon, manufactured at large scale and at competitive costs. “The end product does not contain any toxic substances and the material is 100% recyclable and reusable.” added De Vecchi.

In addition, a large amount of liquid is obtained as a by-product of the pressing process of the plants. This is a very valuable substance as it is very much needed by the cosmetic and medical industries.

The research team is currently seeking for cooperation for inclusion in a production cycle, with a manufacturing or license agreement.

Research team:

University of Palermo, Department of Architecture
A.De Vecchi, S. Colajanni, A. Lanza Volpe
University of Palermo, Department of Civil, Environment and Aerospace Engineering
V. Fiore, A. Valenza


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