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Challenge 1

Use of biobased side/waste steams to provider precursor for polymer foams.

Technology Readiness Level 3 – 9.

In detail

Currently, polyurethane and polyisocyanurate (PIR) foams are mainly formulated using fossil-based carbon, with a small (but growing) fraction of recycled material being added. In line with Kingspan Planet Passionate goals (Kingspan Planet Passionate), we are looking for solutions based on foams synthesised from bio-based chemical precursors. These would ideally come from waste or side streams of existing processes – we are not interested in materials that would require dedicated harvesting – e.g. solutions that would displace food production or impact ecosystems.

Polyurethane and PIR foams used in insulation are typically synthesised using two chemical precursors: methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and a polyol. We are seeking bio-based methods for sourcing these compounds. An alternative approach is to develop solutions for developing bio-based non-isocyanate polyurethanes (NIPUs) which would remove the dependency on MDI. Finally, any novel bio-based foam formulations that could potentially be utilised for insulation would be very much of interest to us.

What does implementation look like?

The product would essentially be a rigid foam suitable for use as insulating board or potentially in panel.

Target foam specs:

  • Lambda: 20-30 mW/m.K
  • Density: 30 – 50 kg/m3
  • Closed cell: >90%
  • Fire: no sustained burning once flame removed, oxygen index >23%
  • Compressive Strength = >0.120Mpa
  • Tensile =>0.050Mpa

Kingspan can potentially assist in this testing.

Challenge 2

Target specifications for high quality bio-based insulation.

TRL 4 – 9.

In detail

Kingspan are looking to increase the biogenic and recycled content of their insulation offerings while reducing petrochemical content and embodied carbon.

Here are the expected performance targets that would provide minimum specification values for bio-based insulation. This will provide guidance to companies and researchers looking to develop a bio-based insulation solution.

Thermal Conductivity less than 40 mW/mK or lower.
Negative LCA impact between A1 to A3.
Fire Class E or better.
Stable and sustainable supply chain.

What does implementation look like?

Additionally, if the below information is known it can help determine an exact application.
– Compression and tensile data (exact specification requirement will depend on the material and application).
– Low water absorption value and moisture content.
– Mould resistance
– Acoustic damping properties.

A stable and sustainable supply chain is required. Scale would need to be sufficient to be cost-effective. The biomaterial would ideally be a waste or side stream from an existing process, and it cannot displace land or resources from food supply or natural habitats.

Challenge 3

Life and End-of-Life methods for bio-based insulation – hemp, wood fibre and other biomaterials.

In detail

The use of biomaterials in insulation and construction is a growing trend. At Kingspan, increasing the use of recycled and bio-based material is a central part of our Planet Passionate strategy (Kingspan Planet Passionate). While these materials have huge potential to reduce dependence and petrochemicals and improve sustainability, their long-term performance is not fully understood.

New materials and products that will be employed in building insulation and construction require certification to ensure they are safe and fit for use. Existing test methods – developed for existing polymer and mineral fibre-based materials may not be fit for assessing bio-based materials. For end of life, safe and efficient methods of dismantling and recovery will need to be developed at the design stage. Current and incoming regulations around extended producer responsibility, LCA and material passports also need to be considered for any new materials and products.

In this challenge, we will be seeking to determine suitable methods for assessing long term performance – particularly where no existing standardised methods are available. In addition, End-of-life (EoL) considerations need to be taken in to account: how will the bio-based product be taken down and recovered. Are there any additives (binders, flame retardants, etc.) that could complicate this process? How can these be assessed and removed, if this is necessary. We are particularly interested in investigating how these issues relate to hemp and wood-fibre based insulation.

What does implementation look like?

Seeking and developing methods of prediction of lifespan of bio-based materials over time.
– How to assess moisture content (sensors)
– A robust, lab-based exercise to test under certain conditions, how does it vary in situ?
– Accelerated ageing tests

At end of life, tests will be required to determine how the material can be recovered and reused. EoL post-processing of the material will ideally be kept to a minimum. Will reuse or recycling be possible? Can it be composted safely?

Company background

Kingspan is the leading producer of foam-based insulation. The company is also developing biomaterials for insulation applications.

Explain your approach to sustainability

Kingspan’s mission is to accelerate a net-zero emissions future-built environment with the well-being of people and the planet at its heart. Sustainability is central to Kingspan’s business strategy, aiming to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by continuously developing solutions that enable buildings to consume fewer resources during both construction and operation phases. Kingspan’s efforts are guided by Planet Passionate, a 10-year sustainability program designed to enhance its environmental performance. The targets are highly ambitious and science-based to align with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement climate goal. There are twelve targets spread across four key areas: carbon, energy, circularity, and water. These include achieving net-zero manufacturing by 2030, a 50% reduction in product carbon intensity by 2030, and 60% direct renewable energy use by 2030. More details about Kingspan’s sustainability plan can be found in its Planet Passionate 2023 report (link to report here).