Open Innovation Challenges

Next-generation building insulation materials
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Open Challenge:

Next-generation building insulation materials
Building Material
Deadline for concept summaries: August 31, 2019

Problem

Until today, the vast majority of building construction has utilized foam plastics (i.e. EPS and XPS) or mineral wool for thermal insulation. These materials are generally environmentally unsustainable, and low-cost competitors have commoditized the global market.

Desired properties

  • Commercially available in 3 to 5 years
  • Produced from biological / natural processes
  • Drainable medium that can evacuate water quickly
  • High water vapor permeability

Specifications

Category 4: Next-generation building insulation materials

Environmentally sustainable, noncombustible, and shapeable

Problem statement

Until today, the vast majority of building construction has utilized foam plastics (i.e. EPS and XPS) or mineral wool for thermal insulation. These materials are generally environmentally unsustainable, and low-cost competitors have commoditized the global market. Recently, catastrophic fires in London and the Middle East have caused architects and developers to move away foam plastic and other combustible insulation materials. Mineral wool, although noncombustible, is difficult to install and limits options for building design. The table below summarizes the properties of common insulation materials.

Properties of common insulation materials

 EPSXPSMineral woolTargetStretch
Thermal R-value R-3.8 per in.R-5.0 per in.R-4.0 per in.R-5. per in 0R-8.0 per in
Water absorption4%2%> 20%20% or less5% or less
CombustibilityHighHighLowLowMeets E136
Compressive
strength
10 psi25 psi4 psi25 psi50 psi
Weight density1 lb / ft³1 lb / ft³7 lb / ft³6 lb / ft³2-3 lb / ft³
InstallationEasyEasyDifficultEasyEasy +
Cost per board-foot$0.13 / bd. ft$0.45 / bd. ft.$0.78 / bd. ft.$0.50 / bd. ft.$0.25 / bd. ft.
Possible approaches

Any materials that provide effective thermal insulation while being environmentally sustainable, noncombustible, shapeable, and easy to install will be considered. Example solutions include insulation beads fused together with resin, polymer-based insulation derived from sustainable materials using a low tech, low energy manufacturing process, and other noncombustible insulation materials.

Known approaches not of interest

Unless significant performance/cost breakthroughs or innovative applications can be achieved, the following materials represent known state-of-the-art and are thus not of interest:

  • Foam plastics similar to EPS and XPS
  • Mineral wool
  • Wood-based insulation
Key success criteria

Required:

  • Noncombustible
  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Non water-sensitive
  • Dimensional stability
  • Durability of masonry and high impact resistance (“woodpecker” and “golf ball” damage)
  • Can be extruded, molded, formed, or compressed into shapes
  • Can function as continuous insulation on the exterior of buildings
  • Can be installed by the plastering, masonry, or carpentry trades

Desired:

  • Commercially available in 3 to 5 years
  • Produced from biological / natural processes
  • Drainable medium that can evacuate water quickly
  • High water vapor permeability

Technical specifications [Cat. 4]: Next-generation building insulation materials

PropertyStandardRequirement
Thermal resistanceASTM C518R-value 5 per inch or greater
Water absorptionASTM C272Less than 5%
Water vapor transmissionASTM E96, Method AGreater than 10 perms
Surface burningASTM E84Flame spread: 0
Smoke developed: 0
CombustibilityASTM E136 or NFPA 220Noncombustible
Density
(desired, not required)
ASTM D16222 lb/ft3
Compressive strength
(desired, not required)
ASTM D162125 psi or greater
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