Insulation Innovation: Product Providers

A small but growing number of building science innovators are developing a variety of energy-saving insulation products. Generally falling into three categories, they are in many cases initially making them available in Europe, but as the prices come down, providing them in the United States, as well. Here are the details on who's offering what.

A small but growing number of building science innovators are developing a variety of energy-saving insulation products. Generally falling into three categories, they are in many cases initially making them available in Europe, but as the prices come down, providing them in the United States, as well. They are as follows:

Vacuum Insulation Panels:

So-called VIPs offer less structural flexibility but greater thermal performance and cost effectiveness than some competing products. Primary suppliers in the United States include Dow Corning, ThermoCor and Panasonic. ThermoCor offers a one-inch-thick VIP providing an R-value of as much as R-45—and it can be as thin as one-fourth of an inch. Panasonic claims its U-Vacua VIPs applicable to construction offer R-60 thermal performance. And Dow has an experimental VIP “development product” that comes in sizes as thin as a quarter-inch. It expects this product’s performance to be at 80 percent of its original R-value after 30 years.

Aerogels:

Aerogels are considered to be the lightest and best insulating solid on Earth. Aspen Aerogels and Cabot Corp., both of Massachusetts, have been the most active developers of these products for the U.S. building market.

Aspen has spent much of a decade developing a blanket strong enough to survive in urban building applications. A signature result is its Spaceloft line of strong and flexible products combining a silica aerogel with reinforcing fibers. It comes in 5 mm and 10 mm thicknesses (approximately 0.2 and 0.4 inches, respectively) boasting extremely low thermal conductivity and high water repellency. Thermal performance factors to an R-value of 10.3 for a product easily applied to walls as well as floors, roofs and framing.

Cabot’s Thermal Wrap aerogel blanket product, which can be as thin as 3.5 mm, is easily cut and rolled on site and can hence help insulate facades and roofs as well as interior walls. Rolls are as long as 100 meters. And as its thermal conductivity only improves with compression, it can be an effective “thermal break” squeezed into typical thermal bridge spots: over studs, around windows, et cetera.

And indeed, Cabot’s Lumira-brand aerogel granules, among other applications, can be incorporated into translucent panels and hence used in glazing assemblies. These panels can be as thin as 10 mm (0.4 inches), with five-foot-wide panels running to lengths of as much as 20 feet. Cabot likewise points out that its aerogel granules can work in loose-fill cavity-wall applications, and can also be added to plasters and other coating systems to enhance thermal insulation.

Other innovators are striving to produce high-performance aerogels with less costly materials such as rice husks. One is Spanish startup Green Earth Aerogel Technologies, whose pilot programs could ultimately help push down pricing if they prove productive.

Phase-Change Materials:

PCMs are more of an energy storage technology than a thermal barrier, but they have shown dramatic effectiveness in Europe. American companies active in product development using this technology include DuPont (Energain) and Phase Change Energy Solutions (Bio-PCM), which are using the PureTemp PCM product from Entropy Solutions, as well as PCM Innovations.

DuPont reports that air-conditioned European commercial buildings tapping its Energain line of PCM-embedded insulation panels have cut cooling costs by as much as 35 percent in warmer months and winter heating bills as much as 15 percent. But reflecting contrasting regulations and attitudes on that continent, DuPont still has no specific plans for offering a comparable product domestically.

In addition, National Gypsum is currently conducting tests of its ThermalCORE wallboard product featuring BASF’s Micronal PCM technology in the United States. The initial panels are a half-inch thick, with a melting point of 73 degrees.

Also available in North America are the Delta-Cool 24 PCM tiles from the Canada-based Cosella-Dörken Products unit of Germany’s Ewald Dörken AG. These tiles are designed for use in suspended ceilings or under floors, allowing applicability to energy retrofits. Cosella-Dörken also has a PCM product for use as thermal mass in glass facades.

The Dutch company Autarkis also offers PCM-embedded ceiling and floor tile products. And Zurich-based GLASSX Inc. offers two PCM-based insulation products: a modular interior element for curtain-wall construction and an all-in-one façade element with integrated sun protection and insulation for light construction.

For the full article on new insulation technologies, see “Insulation Innovation” on page 36 of the December 2012 issue.