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Green insulation fires up building sector

By successfully applying a water-soluble non-toxic fire retardant to wood fibre-based insulation products, a team of Swedish and Danish SMEs has made an important contribution towards sustainable construction and carved out a viable niche market in smarter, safer insulation.

The building sector constantly creates new jobs and opportunities, but also consumes enormous amounts of energy and raw materials. In fact, from manufacturing construction products right through to use and maintenance, buildings in the EU account for half of all energy consumption. Developing environmentally friendly solutions at every stage of the construction process is therefore imperative.

“We see a big future in low impact fire retardant wood-fibre insulating panels” 

The FREI project, supported by EUREKA’s Eurostars programme, has developed sustainable fire retardant insulation products that are ready for commercialisation. This was achieved by pooling the expertise of Danish firm Burnblock – which owns patented technology in the area of environmentally friendly fire retardant formulations – with four other Scandinavian construction firms and research institutes.

 “This innovation could in fact benefit all construction sectors that utilise wood and cellulose fibres in their building components,” says Per Buchwald, who was Burnblock’s CEO at the time of the implementation of the FREI project and is now a consultant for the company on special projects. “Potential end users include medium density fibreboard (MDF) producers and companies that manufacture loose fill insulation based on wood and / or cellulose fibres, as well as structural insulation panel manufacturers.”

Greener building materials

The project began by testing various ways of treating low carbon footprint wood fibres with Burnblock’s fire retardant formulations. These were then used in the manufacture of panels and insulation. As part of the project, an innovative method of introducing the fire retardant was developed, enabling cost-effective continuous processing on a range of products.

These prototypes were then tested. “We were able to show that these natural products meet relevant standards – for example the Construction Products Directive – and have a dramatically lower energy profile across their whole life cycle than conventional insulation products,” says Buchwald. “The material can be recycled and re-used. The next step is to make these insulation panels the material of choice for the construction industry.”

Giving SMEs a voice

Indeed, following completion of the project in 2015 strong industry interest has been expressed, says Buchwald. He notes that Burnblock is currently in advanced discussions with a number of producers of insulation panels and products based on wood fibres. “The fact that these products use a unique, patent protected formulation helps in marketing to larger construction companies,” he adds. “Without that, it would be difficult to compete with larger flame retardant producers.”

In this respect, Eurostars funding has helped the company to be heard in a very crowded market place. SMEs can often find it difficult to convince much larger companies of their ability to supply potentially large volumes of product, and the extensive marketing and testing required to launch new products can be a key barrier. Pooling the resources and expertise of the wood processing and flame retardant industries was also critical in the development of construction products that stand out by offering unique selling points.

“Looking to the future, what is now needed is dedicated, specialist sales personnel and technical support personnel in order to support a potentially unlimited market,” says Buchwald. “We see a big future in low impact wood-fibre structural insulating panels with the added value of being fire retardant, and are now actively looking to develop market share in this field.”

Main partner:
Burnblock, Denmark