Chemicals Promise Better Buildings

Jan. 16, 2013
Report highlights potential of energy-efficient building materials.

The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), Brussels, Belgium, has issued a "Buildings Technology Roadmap" report, which explores possible energy and greenhouse-gas (GHG) savings from five chemically-derived building technologies. These technologies are building envelope (e.g., wall and roof) insulation, pipe and pipe insulation, air sealing, reflective roof coatings and pigments, and windows. The ICCA estimates that combining ambitious building efficiency improvements with lower-carbon fuels could lead to a 41% reduction in energy use and a 70% cut in GHG emissions by 2050.
"The objective of this report is to provide thorough, credible, scientifically-based analyses that quantify the net benefits of the production and deployment of chemically-derived building products. Industry and regulators can use this information to guide decisions and actions needed to achieve the substantial reductions in global warming impacts that are possible through greater use of chemically-based building products," said Otsuka Shigenori, executive consultant with Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation, Tokyo, Japan, and chairman, ICCA Energy and Climate Change Leadership Group, in the report's foreward.

Overall, the 93-page roadmap contains analyses showing that emissions reductions attributed to the use of chemically-derived building products far exceed the amount of GHGs emitted during their production, resulting in large net GHG savings over the useful life of the products.

In terms of strategic goals and actions, the roadmap notes that national regulation has played a key role in pushing forward the agenda of energy efficiency and will continue to do so, given that different regions have committed to the long-term nature of the targets. It also says action should be taken to identify and address existing policies and regulations that inhibit the use of chemically-derived products.

Meanwhile, the report urges the chemical industry to ensure that performance data are based on a lifecycle assessment (LCA) that considers production, use and disposal, and that accurate cost and performance data for delivering, installing and maintaining products are publicly available through credible third parties.

It also highlights education, with the ICCA calling for clear, unambiguous information to be provided to educate all sectors, including legislators, specifiers, installers and consumers.

The report also spotlights the impact of fiscal and other monetary incentives. Packages of measures combining direct subsidies and fiscal incentives have been valuable in driving market transformation to date, notes the roadmap, but these must be backed up with quality information for consumers if the transformation is to be maintained once incentives are removed.

The last of the strategic goals and actions covers R&D. This, combined with public investment in education and knowledge sharing, is critical to the growth of this market and the development of new and innovative energy efficiency products that meet or exceed GHG reduction targets.

The report then focuses on each of the five chemically-derived building technologies in detail, pointing out possible opportunities for the industry. For example, in the building-envelope insulation group, it highlights aerogels and vacuum insulated panels as possible future successes.

In terms of reflective coatings, the roadmap calls for more R&D on hydrophobic materials, thermochromic roofing, and white elastomeric coatings that improve long-term resistance to dirt and microbial growth.

On sealants, the roadmap notes that these are prone to breaking down, particularly as a result of extreme weather conditions. Here, it says, research is needed both to accurately identify the lifespan of existing materials, and to aid development of new, low-impact ones with longer lifespans.

Overall, the roadmap stresses that durability is a key advantage of plastic products, particularly in products that must last a long time without performance and appearance degradation. However, it also notes that durability is difficult to use as a competitive advantage because no durability requirements currently exist in building codes, nor is there a standard system for measuring and reporting it.

"If research can demonstrate the failure or relatively faster deterioration of non-chemically-derived products then this will strengthen the case for use of chemically-derived products. LCA can show the benefits, including production, as well as the use phase and recycling impacts. LCAs can also give valuable information when comparing non-renewable hydrocarbon resources as a material feedstock for resin production to biomass feedstocks," it concludes.

SEÁN OTTEWELL is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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