Tamarind tree and its seed pods. Tamarind tree and its seed pods.

Tamarind seeds to replace polystyrene?

UNAM researchers have developed a biodegradable foam using the seeds

Two researchers from the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM) have developed a biodegradable foam from tamarind seeds that could replace expanded polystyrene (EPS) products.


Expanded polystyrene, commonly but erroneously called styrofoam, is used to produce disposable products such as glasses and plates, but doesn’t degrade for hundreds of years.

The tamarind seed-based product developed by materials researcher Alfredo Maciel Cerda and chemist Abel Humberto Cortés Arce decomposes after being exposed to the elements for three months.

Mexico produces 39 tonnes of tamarind fruit every year, but a third of that weight is in seeds, most of which are discarded.

“Depending on how much ethyl acrylate [an organic compound] is added to the seeds’ polysaccharides, we can obtain either a softer and more pliable material, or one that’s firmer and can support a greater load,” explained Maciel.

Currently, the tamarind foam can only be produced in the laboratory, but Maciel and Cortés believe that once the industrial production process is under way their product could replace the EPS used in the packaging of appliances and scientific equipment, bulletin boards, thermal insulation for construction or coolers used to transport vaccines.

Other biodegradable foams, like the wheat-based variety, have to compete with the food industry, observed Maciel, a handicap he and Cortés have overcome with the tamarind seed-based process.

He said at least one firm has showed interest in replacing EPS sheets with their biodegradable product.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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  • kallen

    That’s a potential game changer but the reality is that while Mexico has the human capital for break-throughs like this they don’t have the entrepreneurial infrastructure and more importantly there is a societal bias against failure (whereas in the US the motto is “fail big and fail often” – implying you’ll eventually get it right). Additionally, potential backers still think in terms of concrete and steel rather than intellectual property. There is a really good article in Scientific American about this very subject: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-mexico-struggles-to-make-science-pay-off/

  • David Nichols

    As is so often the case on MND, the numbers don’t support the viability of the option being discussed…
    I have to believe Mexico produces more than 39 tons of tamarind yearly…!
    If that were true, only 13 tons of seeds would be available to produce this new biodegradable product–not enough to even support the development of the industrial processes to make it…
    MND editors would do well to fact check their postings.