Foams are among the best insulators. Their cellular structure offers two natural advantages: no air flow and negligible air convection. Total's Excell-R® EPS foam insulation also reduces radiation losses.
The global economy is facing troubled times but could the insulation industry be heading for a more certain future? Could this be because of an excellent payback or because most regions in the world are bringing in new regulations to improve housing energy efficiency?
Yes, but insulation also has more to offer. Products are improving strongly, increasing not only profitability and sustainability, but also helping to solve practical challenges. New applications offer novel solutions. We see constantly improving lambda values in expanded polystyrene (EPS), thick and highly-compressive and water-resistant boards made from extruded polystyrene (XPS) as well as no-itch glass wools, green wool binders and improved poly-isocyanurate (PIR) foams replacing polyurethane (PUR) in most areas.
Applications for polystyrene-based foams include structural insulated panels (SIP), external thermally-insulating composite system (ETICS), insulated concrete form (ICF), perimeter insulation from XPS and loose cavity filling with EPS bead.
It is now easier than ever to efficiently insulate each element of a building. This is critical when, for example, Europe is aiming to build near zero energy public buildings from 2018 and will apply the same standards in residential constructions from 2020.
Regulations - Different but with common aims
There are uneven insulation regulations around the world but all countries have the same drivers. Energy prices are rising and CO2 emissions are a worldwide concern but relative priorities vary from place to place. Despite this, every country in the world is likely to see demand for insulation increase in the future.
The Energy Independence Act in the US promotes a variety of energy efficiency measures. In Europe the EPBD has a strong influence over the European construction and insulation industry.
It is in Asia, and more precisely in China, that the latest significant changes have occurred. The Chinese Ministries of Finance and of Housing and Urban-Rural Development announced in May 2012 that 30% of building will be designated 'Green Buildings' by 2020. Of course, such a challenge will be supported by centrally-funded subsidies. Moreover, Green Building is now part of the 12th Chinese Five Year Plan. First estimates suggest that fuel savings could reach 45Mt/yr of coal. With ~2 billion m2 of new buildings built in China annually, new energy standards and regulations will boost insulation use more than ever before.
Styrenic foam supports new demands
When we look at foams dedicated to insulation, in Europe, North America and China cumulative growth is forecast to be at least 3.5%/yr for XPS and over 4%/yr for EPS in the period to 2017. China is likely to record the highest rate of growth if it hits its Five Year Plan targets (See Figure 1). Differences in growth rates will be due to differences in three key factors: 1. New developments, 2. Refurbishment and 3. New applications.
Europe targets refurbishment of more than 60% of households, while in North America and China insulation demands are pushed by changes in regulations and more new constructions.
Limited refurbishment applications are commonly served by XPS. Besides flat roofing, heated flooring and ETICS, for which XPS offers a strong compressive and water-resistance advantage, EPS remains a more versatile product for use in a wider range of refurbishment applications.
Similar analysis can be made locally for new construction. The difference between the potential market (future regulations x new households) and actual market (actual regulation x new households) is extremely important. One would expect the United States, for instance, to be at least as developed in insulation terms as in Europe due to similar population sizes and number of households. However, given little enforcement in individual houses, the US market is small. There is strong potential for growth in the US.
Unlike fibre-based insulation systems, foams offer low densities and a lack of air convection. Closed cell foams can also offer high water impermeability, high structural strengths and the possibility of encapsulating different gases within the cells to improve lambda values.
XPS: The compressive resistance of commercial XPS board is 200 - 700kPa, although higher resistances can be achieved. Other materials that cannot modify their cellular structure would have to raise density significantly to improve compressive resistance.
EPS: EPS is produced by expanding EPS beads. Such beads are ready to process, with the raw materials containing all the necessary additives to produce a high end foam material. Widely used in insulation for its versatility, EPS is one of the most cost-effective insulation materials with good compressive resistance, excellent ratio of density and good insulation properties. The foam itself can be treated and dedicated to a wide range of insulation applications.
Excell-R – A new generation of EPS
For more than 20 years several companies and researchers have been working on improving R values of thermal insulation products. In the case of EPS one of the development targets is the radiative effect at low density. Various specific fillers can improve the thermal resistance of foams by blocking thermal radiation at low densities.
Total has developed a new EPS composition and a dedicated process to offer the market an enhanced EPS that provides an excellent R value. This new product, registered as Excell-R®, will be offered as regular beads as well as self-extinguishing beads. These high-end raw materials allow production of boards reaching as low as 12g/L. End applications are various: ETICS, SIP, wall blocks, moulded parts and more.
Together with a higher mechanical strength than is traditionally seen, the new generations of EPS such as Excell-R® offer low lambda values. Such a gain in insulation performance compared to white EPS offers a strong competitive advantage. With overall EPS demand growing, demand for new generation EPS, and hence Excell-R®, will grow rapidly.
1.PureOne® website, 'General product benefices,' www.pureone.fr/fr/benefices. General product benefices.
2. Ecose® Technology website, www.ecose-technology.com.
4. Energy Performance Building Directive (See 3).
5. Owens Corning® Formular® 400 to 1000 example – 689 kPa at yield of 10% deflection, first occurrence.
6. Hegman, N.; Babcsán N. 'Specific features of thermal and electrical transport in cellular media.'