While they’ve been around for many years, some bio-sourced insulation materials have grown in popularity recently thanks to their impressive properties—as well as their sustainability.
Ecologically conscious architects and construction firms are increasingly choosing bio-based materials over conventional alternatives, both for individual homes and for commercial premises. More traditional or familiar bio-based materials such as wood, hemp, flax, cork, algae or microalgae may seem like obvious choices. However, newer byproducts of these materials such as wood wool, wood fiber, wood foam, or even the chemicals that can be obtained from rapeseed oils or pine resins should remain in consideration.
These products have all been promoted as “low-embodied” energy insulation materials—that is, they require less energy to create compared to more traditional varieties (e.g., glass wool, rock wool, PU-based insulation materials).
Bio-sourced materials present several advantages:
Some may be more commercially viable than others:
The use of bio-based insulation materials is growing. For example, bio-based materials are currently estimated at about 10% of the insulation market in France and their sales continue to grow by 10 to 15% per year.
They are used mostly by building owners who wish to make a sensible ecological choice, while taking advantage of the specific basket of performance benefits provided by these materials. For instance, wood fiber is often used in the production of suspended ceilings in Scandinavian countries. These materials also tend to be lightweight, easy to install, and durable.
The increasing use of bio-based insulation materials is attributed to five main factors:
Some wood fiber insulation materials achieve thermal conductivity performance (0.036 W/(m.K) – Pavatex of Soprema group) practically identical to that of mineral wool.
The acoustic rating of the new bio-sourced insulation surpasses most other materials, but not much—if anything—is currently gained in the areas of thermal performance and fire resistance. To convince contractors to give the new materials a chance, it’s essential to focus on the ease of installation and other benefits through communication and training.
Regulations vary from country to country, and must be understood and followed. In 2014, a group of US architects, public health advocates, and scientists asked the International Code Council (ICC) for an exception to the International Green Construction Code. It wanted to use bio-based insulation materials—without added flame retardants—in areas where fire risks are very low. However, a demand like this can be extremely complicated in this very regulated market.
Finally, the cost of sustainable materials needs to be more in line with competing traditional products. This adjustment depends partly on government support for sustainable forestry or hemp cultivation, but also on the expansion of the supply base, which remains limited today. If those challenges are met, Europe’s bio-sourced insulation industry may increase its share of the market.
Insulation is not the only area where bio-based materials are used. Today, manufacturers and end users in other segments of the building and civil engineering industry are looking for alternative solutions.
A large French civil engineering construction company (Eiffage) is starting to replace, in several pilot projects, traditional bitumen with a bio-based binder, obtained from Tail Oil , a byproduct from forestry and the paper industry process.
At DuckerFrontier, we believe that the use of bio-source in the construction industry is just beginning, and after a slow start, will experience high growth. The possibilities offered by natural materials in different forms, transformed mechanically or chemically, have yet to be completely explored.
Using exclusive research and an expansive network of industry professionals, DuckerFrontier offers market intelligence and consulting services that will help you navigate the emerging industry of sustainable insulation materials. Please click here to connect with a team member.