Lignin-derived Carbon Storing Foams for High Performance Insulation

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Knoxville, Tennessee
Project Term:
10/28/2022 - 10/27/2024

Critical Need:

HESTIA addresses the need for implementing carbon removal strategies by converting buildings into carbon storage structures. HESTIA is also important for nullifying embodied emissions. The majority of these emissions are concentrated at the start of a building’s lifetime and locked in before the building is ever used. This upfront emissions spike equals 10 years of operational emissions in a building constructed to meet standard code, but increases to 35 years for more advanced, higher operating efficiency buildings, and more than 50 years for high-efficiency buildings operating on a lower carbon intensity grid. These time horizons go beyond 2050 climate targets, which means embodied emission reduction strategies are a high priority.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) will develop higher performance, carbon-negative, and eco-friendly lignin polyurethane (PU) foams as a building insulation material via non-isocyanate synthesis. Non-isocyanate PU via polyaddition of cyclic carbonates and amines is non-toxic and non-moisture sensitive. Lignin is inherently hydrophobic, antibacterial, and fire-resistant, which are essential properties of insulation materials. Lignin’s propensity to char instead of ignite is advantageous but insufficient to address modern anti-flammability requirements. UTK will apply anti-flammability agents to meet this requirement. The team will demonstrate that these new bio-derived PU foams can be readily converted to biochar via thermal decomposition at end-of-life for long-term soil carbon capture and improved soil productivity.

Potential Impact:

HESTIA projects will facilitate the use of carbon storing materials in building construction to achieve net carbon negativity by optimizing material chemistries and matrices, manufacturing, and whole-building designs in a cost-effective manner.


HESTIA technologies will reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment.


Building materials and designs developed under HESTIA will draw down and store CO2 from the atmosphere.


A variety of promising carbon storing materials are being explored and commercialized for building construction. Currently these materials are generally scarcer, cost more per unit, and/or face performance challenges (e.g., flame resistance for biogenic carbon-containing materials). HESTIA seeks technologies that overcome these barriers while nullifying associated emissions and increasing the total amount of carbon stored in the finished product.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Marina Sofos
Project Contact:
Dr. Art Ragauskas
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Clark Atlanta University
University of California, Riverside

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