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Tailorable thermoplastic insulation foam composites enabled by porous-shell hollow glass spheres and expandable thermoplastic microspheres

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We report a simple and commercially viable strategy to produce thermoplastic composite foams using synergistic foaming approaches – incorporating porous-shell hollow-interior glass spheres (PHGS) as a filler and utilizing expandable thermoplastic microspheres (EMS) as a physical blowing agent – for thermal insulation applications. The EMS in these composites ensure formation of highly porous, low-density foam while the PHGSs provide low thermal conductivity and lightweight mechanical reinforcement. Through systematic optimization of the PHGS and EMS loadings, a lightweight, and robust insulation with thermal resistivity greater than 27.7 m·K/W (R/in. > 4) is achieved. Notably, the fabricated foams also demonstrated comparable compressive strength than some commercial thermoplastic insulating materials. Through optimization of PHGS and EMS concentrations, results indicated similar thermal performance characteristics at varying foam densities, while higher loadings of both components lead to reduced insulation performance and weak mechanical stability of the foams. The results obtained, when coupled with the potential scalability and tailor ability of the overall process towards targeted insulation performance, not only endows competitiveness with current commercial thermoplastic insulating materials but also offers great promise for the development of unique thermoplastic composite foams for a variety of insulation systems.