Todd Shupe Explores the Growing Popularity
of Bio-Based Spray Foam Insulation

The agricultural and forest industries both produce residues or waste streams that have little or no economic value. The challenge that remains for agricultural and forestry residues is how to best utilize this material for maximum efficiency and economic profit. While at LSU, Dr. Todd Shupe received $250,000 from the USDA to examine the suitability of a rapidly-developing new technology known as continuous microwave-assisted liquefaction to convert this under-utilized material to bio-polyols for the production of spray-foam insulation. Liquefaction is a process that can be used to dissolve biomass in an organic solvent (also called a reagent solvent) at moderate temperatures (120 to 250 ºC) with or without acid catalysts (Hse et al. 2011; Pan 2007; Pan et al. 2012). Liquefied biomass can be concentrated and used as a raw material for other value-added products such as polyurethane foam, epoxy resin or phenolic resin

depending on the reagent solvent used in the liquefaction (Pan 2007). “Our application of microwave technology to the liquefaction process has received a U.S. patent (#8,043,399) and has been shown to dramatically improve the liquefaction rate, shorten the reaction time, lower operational temperature, and use less chemical input as compared to traditional liquefaction reactions,” Todd Shupe says, (Hse et al. 2011).

Spray-foam insulation is growing in popularity as a type of insulation for residential and commercial housing. Spray-foam is a substitute for traditional fiberglass insulation. The chemical agent is stored in canisters and sprayed with a special application device; it then expands and dries, forming a barrier. The advantage of foam insulation is that it expands and leaves no gaps as is the case with typical fiberglass insulation. Therefore, there are no pathways for air to escape – thus an efficient vapor barrier is established. The foam also prevents the buildup of moisture, lowering the incidence of mildew and mold problems, and makes it more difficult for insects and other pests to burrow into a building. Says Todd Shupe, “Spray-foam insulation is recognized as an important part of the wall component in ‘green’ buildings, and also is one of the fastest growing areas in building products.” These advantages and the “green” aspect of foam insulation can be rolled into one with the development of spray-foam insulation from liquefied biomass to attain a new renewable and sustainable product.

While with LSU, Todd Shupe oversaw a laboratory that performed tests on wood products and biocides to gain approval and/or registration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Shupe was directly responsible for final reports, internal quality control, working with third-party auditors and more. His data and document control and workflow were crucial for ensuring that smart solutions to new and existing chemically-treated wood were developed. As the holder of a Ph.D. in wood science from LSU, Todd Shupe knows solutions to preservative-treated wood are currently in the works. At the same time, he knows that sending these scraps to landfills only means that the CCA used during pressure-treating – which contains copper, chromim, and arsenic – does not belong in the soil beneath our feet. That’s why he thoroughly encourages readers to find sensible solutions to disposing of hazardous goods after their spring clean-up has wrapped up.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is the President of and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.