The debate about global warming and the rising prices of raw materials has brought the subject of sustainability firmly into the public spotlight. To conserve resources in day-to-day living, thermal insulation – be it in buildings or refrigerators – has an important role to play: because good insulation reduces energy costs, has a positive impact on the carbon footprint and thus contributes to climate protection. BASF has developed a unique high-performance product for the insulation sector that is scheduled for launch in just a few years.
Researchers of BASF have developed a unique high-performance insulation material that is scheduled for launch in just a few years.Photo: BASF - The Chemical Company, 2013
The material displays exceptional insulation performance, is extra-slim, light and will be produced as a ready-to-use polyurethane panel that is easy to process.
“The new insulating material will be a tailor-made solution for the individual needs of BASF’s customers. With adjustments to its chemical formulation, the product can be modified to suit the requirement profiles of different application sectors,” says Dr. Marc Fricke, laboratory head of global Advanced Materials & Systems Research, has developed the new product with his team. “We want a high-performance insulating material that is easy to process and offers unprecedented design freedom. We can make inroads into areas so far difficult for thermal insulation, such as the modernization of old buildings and interior finish.”
Maximum insulation performance in minimum space
With its combination of properties, the new product stands head and shoulders above all existing insulating materials. The product achieves a lambda value of below 16 milliwatts per meter and kelvin (mW/m · K), an unsurpassed insulation performance for an insulating panel. Today’s standard insulating materials perform with values ranging from 21 to 40 mW/m · K. The material not only insulates remarkably well, but is therefore also extremely economical with space in its application. Compared to conventional products, 25 % to 50 % slimmer insulation is possible.
In terms of its processing, the product has many advantages. It can be handled dust-free and, like conventional construction materials, is easy to work with – sawing, cutting, drilling and bonding are not a problem during the installation of the PU panel.
Superlative performance thanks to minute pores
The insulating material is a novel type of organic aerogel that will be offered as a mechanically strong panel – a hands-on aerogel, so to speak. Its exceptional insulation performance is made possible by its optimized pore size in the nanometer range – something not yet achieved in the form of a sturdy panel. The tiny pores limit the air molecules’ freedom of movement and thus significantly reduce the transfer of heat. Furthermore, the exact geometry of the panel offers an advantage compared to inorganic powders used as core material for vacuum insulation panels (VIPs). When used in a VIP, a vacuum is applied during production of the high-performance insulating material in order to remove air from the pores. The application of this process yields a further significant improvement in the lambda value. Integrated in a VIP as the core material, a further reduction of its thermal conductivity under 5 mW/m · K is possible.
For feel-good climate, aesthetics and energy-efficient cooling
BASF sees future applications of the product above all in the construction sector and in refrigeration. Most house owners want to make their home as energy-efficient as possible if only for reasons of cost and live there for decades to come. In addition, house owners want not only insulating materials that perform well, but also a feel-good climate in their home. The insulating material’s open-porous structure encourages effective humidity regulation in interior spaces. This has a positive impact on room climate while also preventing the development of mold and damage to the building fabric.
Insulating materials are often chosen for aesthetic reasons. Thanks to its minimum space requirements, the new PU material offers wide design freedom in the construction of new buildings and modernization of existing ones – while achieving superlative insulation values. Thanks to its good processing characteristics, even complicated designs are possible. There is no longer any conflict between aesthetics and insulation, which is good news for architects and designers. The high performance insulating material offers refrigerator manufacturers totally new prospects as well. Thanks to its high insulation performance, it is now possible to build more energy-efficient refrigerators. This means lower running costs for end users and benefits for the environment. Used as a core material in VIPs and installed in refrigerators, it creates greater space in their interiors.
Innovation in the service of the environment
The innovation of a novel functional material only has been made possible by further advancing the competency portfolio of Polymer Research. BASF has bundled its research for polymers and additives in the new technology platform “Advanced Materials & Systems Research”, focusing on holistic systems approach. Thus, BASF research is conducting the new high-performance insulation material into the pilot phase. The first sample quantities will be available in the second half of 2014, produced at a new pilot plant at the Lemfoerde site. BASF’s new PU material offers tailor-made climate management that is adapted to customers’ individual requirements. With its new PU product, BASF will be helping to conserve resources and reduce the carbon footprint. This is a landmark example of the role that innovation from the chemical industry can play in the service of the environment.