Global Insulation Conference & Exhibition 2016
26 - 27 September 2016, Hamburg, Germany
The 11th Global Insulation Conference successfully took place in Hamburg, Germany in September 2016 with 150 delegates from 27 countries. The event also included an exhibition of 25 technology and service suppliers. The 12th Global Insulation Conference will take place in Krakow in September 2017.
Joe Harder, OneStone Consulting opened the programme with an overview of worldwide market potential for the insulation sector. His starting point was that 80% of the 210 million buildings in the European Union (EU) are energy inefficient in terms of heating, cooling and ventilation. 35% of these are more than 50 years old and, in Germany, Harder’s home nation, there is no state funding or other stimulus to encourage homeowners to insulate their abodes. After setting the scene with the European construction markets and their size and importance to the region, he calculated the worldwide insulation market at US$37bn in 2015 and rising to US$45bn in 2020 with some variation from other analysts. By region, Asia holds the largest market for insulation, followed by North America and Europe. By product type, the market is fairly evenly split between organic and inorganic insulation. This product type breakdown follows into most of the regions, although Asia markedly has a preference for plastic foam. Types of mineral wool used varies considerably in different territories, with a preference for glass wool in North America and a preference for stone wool in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States
Moving to projections by product type, Harder showed that glass wool is predicted to grow by the biggest amount from 2015 to 2020 in North America closely followed by plastic foam. Owens Corning mothballed some of its production capacity from 2005 to 2015 in response to under-utilisation. It has since stated that it needs 1.2 – 1.4m/year housing starts to justify reopening this capacity. In Europe insulation volumes fell from 2013 to 2015 but they are expected to pick up to 2020 to a value of US$11.9bn and with a rising compound annual growth rate (CAGR). OneStone predicts that the insulation market in Europe will see slight increases in volumes and prices from 2016 to 2018, with a slight variation in the mix of product type.
Second to present was Peter Edwards from Global Insulation, outlining the situation leading up to the UK vote to leave the EU. As a UK citizen Peter was well positioned to offer his ‘unbiased’ take on the ‘Brexit’ vote, including how former Prime Minister David Cameron called it in the first place, the fallout and prospects of the future relationships between the UK and the EU, as well as the prospects for the insulation sector. As with almost every area of the UK economy, the effects of the Brexit decision on the UK insulation sector will take many years to emerge. In the short term it is possible that, combined with low fossil fuel prices, Brexit negotiations could detract from environmental efforts, including any new incentives for insulation (after the collapse of the UK ‘Green Deal’).
Martin Wiesweg, IHS Global followed with a look at the outlook for expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS). His opening point was that oil prices have started to rise following a two-year period of oversupply as global (oil) liquids demand is estimated to have exceeded supply in the second quarter of 2016, the first time it has done this since 2013, with the price of Brent Crude projected to grow to an average of US$52/barrel in 2017. Global EPS demand has stagnated for about the same period as the oversupply of oil, with operating rates falling to below 60% which he described as a ‘bad’ result. Europe has fared better, with demand returning to growth since 2015, growing faster than production capacity. Subsequently, Wiesweg expects imports to grow, supporting capacity growth in countries like Turkey. Chinese EPS demand has presented its own challenges given that the regulations were seriously tightened following a fire in 2012. He then went on to show the broadly similar relationship between styrene and power prices, explaining the various spikes in styrene prices due to peaks in offline production capacity.
From here, Ulbert Hofstra, SGS Intron took over for a discussion of environmental product declarations (EPD) in Europe. His key point was that different EPDs exist, such as ones based on a life cycle assessment (LCA), for different countries. This makes it hard for producers to unify their products across different markets. The focus on EPDs was important because, once buildings become more advanced, their environmental profile concentrates more on the materials used. EPDs are used for different reasons in different locations. So, for example, they are a requirement in Germany, a requirement for products with sustainability claims in Belgium and they are required for building calculations and for tendering purposes in the Netherlands. The growth in EPDs has led for a need for harmonisation in method, quality, generic data (such as that used in a LCA database) and availability. Work towards this is continuing apace, with the European Standard EN 15804 providing the method and Ecoplatform providing the quality control. The INDATA initiative allows for exchange of EPDs between different jurisdictions in the EU. Yet the biggest hurdle at present is the lack of a generic database exacerbated by competitive database products in the market. Hofstra’s closing point was that most of the work in an LCA towards an EPD is in the data collection allowing for recalculation in a different LCA if necessary.
Following lunch, delegates heard from Grazyna Mitchener, PolyChemTech on the topic of ‘seeing the unseen,’ i.e. heat, in the insulation sector. She outlined the improvements to the production of previously prohibitively expensive aerogel products, thanks to EMPA’s new one pot process, which reduced the reaction time by a factor of five. She also discussed cross-linked, fibre-reinforced and polymeric aerogels.
Moving onto more futuristic technologies, Mitchener urged delegates to move away from thinking about heat in terms of conduction and convection, towards treating heat as a wave. She suggested ‘counter-wave’ technology, as routinely used in noise-cancelling headphones, before moving onto the use of wave-particle duality as an approach towards channelling heat through finely tuned structures. This, she argued, could lead to the development of heat diodes. Some prototypes already exist. Mitchener also showed delegates the first video of heat being transferred through an object. “Now we can see what we previously could not see,” she concluded. “What shall we do with it?”
Diana Fisler, Johns Manville then asked delegates ‘Do we want to use as much insulation as possible?’ The answer ‘correctly’ given by delegates was ‘no,’ as many applications, such as building construction, do not gain from using thinner or more efficient materials, especially in Fisler’s native North America. Fisler outlined the existing problems with high-end products, like vacuum insulation panels (VIPs), which suffer in terms of cost and handling characteristics in many low-cost applications. Meanwhile, they have carved out a niche in appliances and cold storage boxes, where cost is less important and thin, highly insulating materials are valued more highly. Fisler identified some areas, including in space constrained high-rise cities, where high-performance insulation can save developers money. It is often the case, Fisler noted, that applications where low lambda insulation materials can provide good returns on investment are not immediately obvious.
Now the conference programme moved to advances in production technology led by a presentation by Roland Oberhoffer and Alexander Müller, Sumteq on their new method to produce sub-microcellular polystyrene foams. Sumteq is a start-up spun-off from the University of Cologne in 2014. Sumteq targeted medium density foams with lower cell sizes for its sub-micron polymer foam in order to avoid the Knudsen effect. Their method uses polymer modification/solvent-gelation to allow better large-scale production, reducing the requirements for high temperatures and long exposure times. It uses a polymer to create medium-pore foams quicker than the previous method. This has allowed them to reduce the pore size compared to conventional polystyrene foam by over 1000 down to a diameter of 0.1μm. Sumfoam, uses polystyrene as a starting polymer with a density between 50 – 200g/L which allows full recycling. Work on the upscaling process to the industrial scale has reached 15L in 2016 with a pilot plant targeted at 50 – 250L planned for 2017.
At this point the conference broke for the day with a gala dinner at the Former Customs House. This 19th Century red brick building by the Zollkanal (customs canal) in the Speicherstadt (warehouse) district of Hamburg originally processed tea, spices, coffee and tobacco. For the evening it hosted a convivial supper culminating in the announcement of the Global Insulation Awards 2016, as voted for by the insulation industry. Paroc won Insulation Company of the Year, Qubiqa were awarded Equipment Supplier of the Year, the Roxul Marshall County Plant picked up Insulation Plant of the Year, the Isover Sillatherm Fire Barrier collected the prize for Insulation Product of the Year and the Fixit/EMPA Aerogel plaster render took home the Technical Innovation of the Year award. Personality of the Year went to Diana Fisler of Johns Manville.
The following morning Novomer’s Simon Waddington commenced the second day of the conference programme by speaking on his company’s green CO2 – containing polyurethane co-polymers. The process is low temperature, with a catalyst reducing the energy required to polymerise CO2 with other monomers. As they contain around 50% CO2 by mass, Novomer’s products have clear benefits from a carbon footprint perspective, while offering comparable properties to other polyurethane foams and lower embodied energy (hence lower fire risk). Simon described the development from lab-scale to testing at the ce / de / pa full-scale testing facility in Spain, including issues around ‘post-expansion’ of the foams. Simon was able to reveal that a major insulation producer will shortly acquire the technology, with a view to taking it to the ‘next level.’ “This is no longer a concept,” he concluded.
Lionel Guizhiou from Microwave Vision Group (MVG) then described his company’s detection system for 3D defects in glass and mineral wool. The technology can be used to focus on the defect, as a visible camera does. Differences in the electromagnetic signal can be used to see whether defects are wet or dry. Once this is known, selected defects may or may not be allowed into the final product, depending on the product and intended use. The system can be set to reject dry, wet or both types of defect, saving insulation producers from wasting material as scrap and increasing their margins.
For the Insulation Performance Advances Section of the programme, Roland Caps, va-Q-tec presented a thermal analysis of submicron polystyrene foams as a core material for vacuum insulation panels (VIP). His opening comment was that only a moderate vacuum would be needed for materials such as Sumfoam, allowing for a longer lifespan, a particularly desirable requirement for a product that degrades over time like VIPs. Caps and his team ran a thermal analysis of Sumfoam in air and in a vacuum, demonstrating lower (better) thermal conductivity for the white foam material for a range of densities in a vacuum. From here they then confirmed the micron-scale pore diameters via thermal measurements but concluded that the thermal conductivity in a vacuum was still too high for their requirements. So they decreased the density of the foam and added opacifiers. The black 44kg/m3 sample then achieved more of the properties they desired including small pore diameters, allowance for high gas pressure, potential long service lifespan and low density. Development continues to improve thermal conductivity and to make the foam easily evacuable. The cost of the core is believed to be low enough for VIPs but the exact figure remains unknown, as the industrial production process is still being created. Finally, Caps took pride in announcing that va-Q-tec was due to become a publicly listed company on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on 7 October 2016.
Michael Schumm, Saint-Gobain took to the podium to present the results of the testing of switchable insulation in conjunction with ZAE Bayern. His rhetorical opening question teased the audience of insulation professionals with the statement that ‘insulation is not always good for you.’ Specifically, sometimes one may want a wall that is both insulating and conductive, depending on the temperature. The project uses the properties of glass wool to offer the lowest and highest thermal conductivity compared to organic insulation types and silica at high and low gas pressures respectively. The switchable insulation tested uses a pump to evacuate and re-ventilate the core material with hydrogen, the gas with the highest conductivity, to gain the required properties. A prototype has been tested at the Isover Test House on a south façade where over 100 switches in winter and around 250 in summer have been measured along with nearby weather station data. The switches were triggered by temperature difference. The team concluded that the energy gains in winter were 140kWh/m2/a along with a six-hour time shift allowing for thermal comfort in the evening. Additionally the setup saved 5kWh/m2/a in electrical cooling energy in the summer, while offering the additional benefits described. He also addressed concerns over the use of the hydrogen, which he said was present in very small quantities. Schumm said that switchable insulation wouldn’t cost much more than conventional VIPs when questioned.
Following lunch Ignacio Javier Nunez Zorriqueta, Johns Manville Europe spoke about renewable and sustainable nonwovens solutions. His starting position was to discuss changes in why and how customers pick insulation products comparing this to how consumers have changed their criteria for buying cars over the decades for attributes such as fuel economy or ecological credentials. The mainstay of this presentation flagged the development of binder chemistry from formaldehyde-based resins to formaldehyde-free polyacrylates and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) in the mid-1990s and on to renewable sugar-based resins (and others) since 2008.
Finally, Sabrina Huesmann, Münstermann and Marc Fricke, BASF presented the challenges both company have encountered taking the production of polyurethane-based aerogel panels from the laboratory to pilot scale. Fricke brought along to the talk what he said was the largest aerogel panel one can handle to the delight of the audience. Some of the headline advantages of BASF’s Slentite panel are a low lambda value at 17mW/mK, a slim panel, high compression strength and good moisture regulation. A pilot plant was set up at Lemfoerde, Germany in 2015 with finalisation of the production concept slated for 2017 and eventual industrial production planned for 2020. Huesmann then described Münstermann’s relationship with BASF since 1997 leading to work on the Slentite project in 2011. Proposals for a pilot plant and a full-size production line were originally proposed in 2012 before BASF revised its concept for the pilot plant process leading to a rethink. Münstermann stayed on the project to eventually propose a new pilot plant that was commissioned at Lemfoerde. Since then a budgetary offer for a concept for a bulk production line has been accepted by BASF, which is now entering the market preparation phase.
The conference concluded with awards given to the best presentations from the programme as voted for by the audience. Michael Schumm picked up first place, followed by Roland Oberhoffer and Alexander Müller in second and Grazyna Mitchener in third place.
The 12th Global Insulation Conference will take place in Krakow, Poland in September 2017.