Building the future of energy efficiency

As a world-leading manufacturer of high-tech polymers, Covestro has taken up the environmental challenge in building and construction, and is playing a pioneering role in optimising building insulation

Climate change is the central issue of our day and age. With greenhouse emissions reaching an all-time high, floods, tornados and droughts are continuously impacting millions of lives all over the globe. At this turning point for society worldwide, companies from nearly every industry are being challenged to develop solutions that facilitate a more sustainable style of living.

Covestro’s role
Buildings are responsible for most CO2 emissions – at least 40 per cent of global energy consumption and over a third of greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, reducing emissions from buildings is crucial in combating humaninduced climate change. The quickest and simplest way to protect the climate is to save energy, as the cheapest energy is the energy that doesn’t need to be produced in the first place. If taken into account at the planning stage of a new building, a well-executed insulation concept will play a key part in a more sustainable style of living as it can help maximise the building’s energy efficiency. Polyurethanes based on raw materials manufactured by Covestro play an outstanding role in optimising insulation in various ways.

High insulating performance
Polyurethane’s good insulating performance comes from its low thermal conductivity. The gas enclosed in the foam pores and added during production to enhance the foam’s performance is also a major contributing factor. For many applications today the gas is pentane, which has half the thermal conductivity of air. Of all today’s conventional insulating materials polyurethane offers the highest insulating performance as it has a much lower thermal conductivity value than other insulating materials such as polystyrene, mineral wool, glass wool or hemp. Polyurethane with a thermal conductivity rating of 023, for example, insulates twothirds better than an alternative insulating material with a rating of 040.

Lower energy costs
In a typical house around 70 per cent of the energy is lost through the roof, outer walls, windows, doors and cellar. Effective polyurethane insulation solutions help to avoid these losses and reduce the cost of heating or cooling a building.

More living space
As polyurethane enables a thinner insulating layer than other insulation materials, it makes thinner walls possible. This results in more interior space for new buildings and minimal space requirements for retrofitted insulation of older buildings. This is particularly attractive if urban heritage regulations have to be complied with. To achieve the same U value (0.022 W/m2K) as 100 mm thick polyurethane insulation, you would need 154 mm of mineral wool or 167 mm of wood wool, to mention just two examples.

More living comfort
Covestro has committed itself to improving the lives of 10 million people in underserved markets through business solutions specifically targeting food security, sanitation and housing. Covestro’s polyurethane-based solutions are currently making a difference in helping to avoid post-harvest wastage and better food security through an improved cold chain in climatically challenged countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and India; in improving sanitation in India and Malaysia through hygienic toilets based on polyurethane rigid foam technology; and in making affordable well insulated housing possible in Iraq, Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

More design flexibility
The slim profile of highperformance polyurethane insulation materials in façades and flat roofs gives architects a great deal of design freedom by enhancing the graceful appeal and pleasing appearance of a building. The thinner insulating layer polyurethane gives architects and builders a higher degree of flexibility in designing buildings. Metal-faced sandwich panels with rigid polyisocyanurate or polyurethane foam cores now come in a range of attractive colours that make appealing façade designs possible. Very creative concepts have already been implemented in buildings in the Netherlands, for example.

Greater processing versatility
Rigid polyurethane panels can be cut to any size using simple tools. Even more design flexibility can be achieved by foaming the insulation material. Polyurethane can also be combined with other building materials and incorporated into composite or sandwich panels. Metal-faced polyurethane sandwich panels are particularly suitable for energyefficient commercial and industrial constructions.

High aging durability
Besides being mechanically durable, moisture and temperature resistant and chemically stable, polyurethane displays high aging resistance, typically equivalent to the usual lifecycle of an insulated building (e.g. 50 years).

Good fire safety performance
The EU classes modern rigid polyurethane foams with high intrinsic fire safety properties as having low or normal flammability. This means they can be used in various thermal insulation applications in the construction and cold chain industry. With further tightening of the relevant regulations expected at any time, research is continuing to enhance polyurethane’s flame retardance properties.

Cost-efficient construction
If the sum of all properties is taken into account, there are sound economic arguments for using polyurethane. Rigid polyurethane foam – in the form of insulation boards, sandwich elements or other construction material – offers tailored, economical insulating solutions for almost every possible application, e.g. pitched or flat roofs, façades and metal panels. It is true that in terms of price per unit of volume rigid polyurethane foam insulation has a higher initial cost than other materials. However, if a comprehensive cost-performance overview is undertaken by evaluating an entire building system, and not just considering insulation systems based on nothing more than the insulating materials themselves, polyurethane solutions are usually more cost-efficient and sustainable than other insulation solutions.

Key contribution to combating climate change
Polyurethane is making a key contribution to sustainable development. A lifecycle analysis shows that the carbon footprint of polyurethane is comparable to or less than that of competing materials and in the course of this insulating material’s long service life in building, polyurethane saves over 70 times the amount of energy consumed in its manufacture. This gives polyurethane a positive eco-balance. In the EU alone around 50 million kWh of energy are saved annually through the use of polyurethane insulation materials.

What’s more, innovative developments are giving polyurethane even better insulating qualities.
* Polyurethane nanofoams: The smaller the foam pores, the better polyurethane insulates. Today’s polyurethane typically has pore sizes of 150 um. Covestro is researching into foams with pore diameters of 150 nm, a mere 1000th of the current size. This would reduce polyurethane’s thermal conductivity by half. However, as these nanofoams have to be produced using an entirely different technology than today’s rigid foams, Covestro is collaborating with scientists from Cologne University to fine-tune the chemical reaction between the polyurethane raw materials and simultaneous expansion of the tiny foam bubbles in the microemulsions. Once this challenge has been mastered, a specific degree of thermal insulation could be achieved through polyurethane insulating material that is only half as thick as today’s.

* CO2 as a polyurethane raw material: Covestro’s innovative CO2 technology enables carbon capture and utilisation, thus turning CO2 into a useful raw material that serves as a building block for plastics. Based on this technology, Covestro now offers a range of cardyon™-branded polyols for use in different kinds of polyurethane applications. The use of CO2 in plastics production benefits the environment by reducing the overall carbon footprint and establishing an alternative carbon source beyond fossil hydrocarbons and biobased raw materials. In 2016, this innovation was put to industrial use with the startup of a five kt demo plant in Dormagen. In terms of global CO2 emissions this is only a small step forward, but this new source of raw material is both economically and ecologically significant: it reduces the dependence on crude oil in manufacturing polyurethane and other high-tech polymers, and it contributes to combating climate change by reusing a greenhouse gas.

Crucial role
Enhancing energy efficiency in buildings is key to tackling climate change. Polyurethane made from Covestro raw materials is playing a crucial role in insulating buildings and thus reducing energy losses. At the same time, its design flexibility, processing versatility, fire safety performance and cost efficiency offer significant constructional advantages.

With 2016 sales of EUR 11.9 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, and electrical and electronics industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics, health and the chemical industry itself. Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience, has 30 production sites around the globe and employs approximately 15,600 people (full-time equivalents) as of the end of 2016.