Insulation Materials Save Energy
Because the heating and cooling of buildings accounts for a large share of total energy consumption, the construction industry plays a key role in saving energy. Insulated walls and roofs reduce the demand for heating energy or the cooling load of buildings – and therefore they do not only cut costs but also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Building materials made from natural materials can also open up new opportunities for agriculture and peripheral regions. Manufacturers and processors of biobased insulation materials therefore benefit from investments and support measures for energy efficiency, circular economy and climate protection.
Sustainable Insulation Materials on the Rise
Biobased insulation materials are considered to be particularly sustainable, climate-friendly, resource-saving and environmentally friendly: Renewable raw materials, such as wood, hemp, straw, reeds, cork, coconut fibers or sheep’s wool, absorb carbon dioxide while they are growing and are climate-neutral. They can often be purchased regionally from local agriculture and forestry, which avoids long transport routes; they are easy to process and easy to recycle, thermally recycle or compost after their service life has ended; they usually have good life cycle assessment values. If the insulation materials are modified by processing, the additives used, for example binders, adhesives, support fibers, impregnations or flame retardants, must also be considered in addition to the production and transport routes in order to evaluate their environmental properties. Insulation materials made from renewable raw materials usually get by with far fewer chemical additives than synthetic products and are therefore less harmful to health, not only for allergy sufferers and people who are sensitive to chemicals.
Growing Demand for Biobased Insulation Materials
The demand for ecological insulation materials is growing steadily. Natural materials are often more expensive than mineral or synthetic products, they have to be protected against water, fire and pests, and in many places building regulations and standards still make their use difficult. However, biobased building materials can score not only with sustainability, but also with advantages in terms of building physics. In addition to heat and sound insulation, the regulation of the indoor climate is worth mentioning: Biobased insulation materials (as well as biobased paints and biobased wallpapers) are mostly open to diffusion, i.e. they initially absorb water vapor from the air and gradually release it again. Thus, they act as a moisture buffer and prevent mold. In the event of a fire, biobased insulation materials tend to be more predictable and less hazardous than petroleum-based rigid foams because they burn more slowly, do not melt or drip burning, and emit relatively little smoke or toxic gases.
Ceresana has been regularly analyzing the market for insulation materials used in the construction industry for thermal and acoustic insulation for 10 years. The study, which will be published shortly, is the first to specifically address biobased insulation materials that are also ideally biodegradable. Not included in this study, however, is insulation material used in other application areas, for example in the automotive industry, in the production of household appliances and commercial devices, as well as in industrial process plants.
- Current Ceresana market studies on biobased paints, biobased adhesives and bioplastics are also relevant for the construction industry. Ceresana studies on polystyrene and expandable polystyrene (PS, XPS, EPS) and polyurethane and isocyanates (PUR/PIR, MDI, TDI) provide information on synthetic foams. Ceresana also offers its own studies on the entire world market and the European market for insulation materials.
The Most Important Biobased Insulation Materials
Insulation materials for heat, cold and sound insulation of buildings should insulate well, be robust and inexpensive, be quick to process and not harmful to health (e.g. due to fine dust), but also be environmentally friendly, fireproof, durable and easy to dispose of. Unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all solution has been found yet: So far, no material fulfills all requirements equally well and at the same time. Therefore, different materials with specific properties are often combined, for example hemp fibers and support fibers made of the bioplastic PLA, coconut fibers and flame retardants, or sound insulation made of coconut fibers (low-frequency noise) and cork (high-frequency noise).
Insulation products are usually available in the form of mats, boards, rolls, fill, or even loose flakes that are blown into cavities. Ideally, the raw materials used are fully declared and originate from ecological agriculture and forestry that takes the environment and biodiversity into account. Purely plant-based insulation materials are sometimes marketed as “vegan”. Prefabricated insulation panels for exterior walls, which only need to be doweled, are offered as “external thermal insulation composite systems” (ETICS). Natural materials are usually not suitable for perimeter insulation, i.e. for the particularly demanding water- and pressure-resistant insulation of building components against soil or splash water. Biobased insulation materials can be composted after their service life or recycled as, for example, mulch material if they contain no additives or only additives that are also biodegradable.
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