Materials focus on insulation, energy, emissions and quality

Paul Boughton
The latest releases of new materials from European chemical companies aim to improve insulation, energy efficiency and finish, while reducing the amount of solvents involved during manufacture. Sean Ottewell investigates.

On 13th March, BASF started up a new plant at its Ludwigshafen site in Germany to manufacture the expandable polysturene (EPS) insulation material Neopor. The plant has a production capacity of 90 000t/y and uses a new extrusion-based process.

The grey Neopor is the refinement of the classic insulating material Styropor. It contains special graphite particles that reflect thermal radiation like a mirror, so reducing heat losses in houses (Fig.1).

Customers foam the Neopor granules themselves and process them into insulating panels and moulded parts that are then used to insulate exterior walls, roofs and floors. Insulating materials made of Neopor not only meet the standards for passive house construction but they also save at least 30 per cent of the energy needed to cool residential buildings in warm climates, says BASF.

In contrast to the suspension method employed so far, the extrusion process of the new plant will yield more uniformly sized granules and will permit a targeted setting of the panel properties, for example compression resistance.

Insulating materials made of Neopor are instrumental in lowering the energy consumption of poorly insulated old buildings. For example, according to BASF an old multi-family residential building uses 21 litres of heating oil per square metre per year for heating energy. If it is insulated so that it then needs only five litres, the residents of an 80 sq m apartment in this building will save some 1280 litres of heating oil per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 4090kg. The energy needed to produce Neopor for this insulation - about 1000 litres of heating oil per 80 sq m of living space - is recouped after the first heating season.

"Even though the global financial crisis has also had a negative impact on the construction sector, the worldwide demand for energy-efficient products will continue to grow, particularly for retrofitting thermal insulation in old buildings as well as for cooling buildings," says Martin Brudermüller, responsible for plastics on BASF's board of executive directors. "We expect the global market for EPS in the construction sector to grow by about five per cent per year, a trend driven by energy prices that will rise over the long run and by statutory regulations."

Meanwhile, Dow Corning scientists are stepping up their search for a technology solution that will help improve fuel efficiency for millions of drivers worldwide. So-called 'green' tyres are already in widespread use on cars, particularly in Europe, but Dow Corning is now working on a technology solution that will make it possible for these tyres to also be used on trucks and road tankers.

"In 2007, there were around 20 million trucks worldwide, so this is potentially a very big opportunity for us," said Dow Corning's Thierry Materne, global industry director for coating, reinforced plastics and tyres. "Dow Corning developed processes and technology that contributed to make it possible for millions of car drivers to get the benefits of green tyres. Now we want to help truck drivers get the same advantages."

To this end, Dow Corning scientists have joined forces with counterparts at Rhodia Corporation. The two companies are collaborating in the development and commercialisation of new silica/silane products to support the tyre industry's drive for energy efficient, safer motoring. Their first activity will be to develop a way of introducing silica into natural rubber, covering applications such as truck and winter tires.

The Dow Corning scientists will be aiming to repeat their success of a few years ago where they developed a new technology called phase transfer catalysis (PTC) which made the manufacture of green tyres more affordable through a reduction in both the amount of materials consumed and the costs in making silane coupling agents. Studies have shown that green tyres give better traction on wet and icy surfaces and can reduce stopping distances by as much as 15 per cent, making the roads safer for everyone. Tyre-rolling resistance is reduced by up to 20 per cent compared to an equivalent standard tire, which reduces vehicle fuel consumption by up to five per cent.

"According to the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers Truck Future Report, fuel economy is the number one purchasing criteria of the road transportation industry," added Eric Noyrez, president of Rhodia Silcea and director of the company's silica business unit. "This demonstrates the strong and urgent market need for diverse technological innovation to help reduce fuel consumption."

Better performance

On 2 April, at the Nuremburg-based European Coating Show 2009, DSM NeoResins+ announced the launch of a new range of waterborne two-component (2K) polyurethane (PUR) coatings that are completely solvent-free and deliver high gloss, body and filling performance (Fig.2).

DSM featured three new product introductions at the show: NeoCryl XK-531, NeoCryl 541, and NeoCryl XK- 555 which are designed for metal applications and are the company's first high gloss and solvent-free waterborne 2K PUR resins.

The company developed the new range of high gloss products through a combination of its expertise and technologies in solvent borne acrylics and waterborne acrylic emulsions. The new process is based on an optimisation of secondary emulsion technology that enables the production of solvent-free waterborne 2K PUR resins.

The new non-VOC emulsions allow high blister free film build coatings that enable the creation of 'perfect layers'. Because they contain no solvents, they also offer greater freedom to paint manufacturers in their formulations. This allows formulators to make paints with a solvent content of less than 100g/l, whereas until now waterborne 2K paints have had solvent contents of 200g/l or more. These new products will therefore make it possible to reduce VOC emissions by as much as 50 per cent. This, says the company, is combined with excellent performance and appearance characteristics, comparable to those of solvent borne 2K polyurethane systems.

Another strong advantage is that paint formulators have freedom of choice over the particular solvent they use with the isocyanate, allowing them more flexibility to determine the drying time, production speed, and flow properties, as well as providing more control over the cured coating end product properties such as hardness.

"These new waterborne 2K products produced with this novel process allow our customers to reduce emissions, improve the application process and improve the properties of the resulting paints," noted Sjaak Griffioen, business director at DSM NeoResins+.

In another new announcement, ExxonMobil Chemical's Exxtral performance polyolefins have been specified for the front and rear bumpers of the new Renault Laguna Coupe. Exxtral BMU131 performance polyolefin is being used for the front bumper, front grille and headlight trim, and Exxtral BMU133 polyolefin for the rear bumper.

"The main challenge in meeting Renault's specifications was developing a specialty compound for the front bumper which provides outstanding fit and finish," said Samuel Deboos, automotive sales manager, Europe, ExxonMobil Chemical.

Exxtral BMU131 polyolefin is a UV-stable grade exhibiting excellent aesthetics because of its broad processing window that helps to eliminate large-part injection molding challenges such as tiger stripes. Requiring no mixing or blending at the moulding presses, Exxon says these ready-to-inject, fast-cycling grades can improve productivity and deliver cost-savings.

Both grades are characterised by a novel impact strength that provides the essential balance between stiffness and toughness required for bumper applications. They offer a low coefficient of linear thermal expansion (CLTE) for excellent dimensional stability, too.

According to Exxon, the Laguna Coupe application is an excellent example of collaboration between the automotive original equipment manufacturer (Renault), the Tier One supplier (Plastic Omnium), and the specialty compound supplier to meet expectations across the supply chain. The capabilities of the Exxtral polyolefin grades were demonstrated at Plastic Omnium's design centre in Sainte-Julie near Lyon, France.

"ExxonMobil Chemical's portfolio of Exxtral performance polyolefins is becoming increasingly popular with automotive designers and processors looking for new materials that offer opportunities to reduce weight and cost without sacrificing performance," added Deboos.