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Reducing energy waste through Insulation

In this article, we examine the most common insulation materials and their applications, as well as the installation issues that might affect the system’s performance. Valeria Camerino reports.

| | Feb 7, 2012 | 6:35 pm
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A reliable insulation system is paramount to achieving and maintaining optimal energy efficiency, as it reduces energy losses, and ultimately, heating and cooling costs. In this article, we examine the most common insulation materials and their applications, as well as the installation issues that might affect the system’s performance. Valeria Camerino reports.

As Dr. Marc Schuetze, Head of BD & Production at BaySystems Pearl explained, the most common insulation materials are rockwool, expanded or extruded polystyrene and polyurethane. Rockwool or mineral wool is an inorganic product that is used for the manufacturing of sandwich panels but can also be employed as insulation boards for construction or as pipe insulation. Polystyrene can be used in the same applications, he said.

In his view, polyurethane is the most versatile insulation material as it can be used in all of the above mentioned applications, as well as the insulation of refrigerators and freezers, pre-insulated pipes for district cooling or heating and on-site manufactured spray foam.

Selection and performance of insulation solutions are mainly determined by thermal conductivity and thickness of insulation, fire resistance and price.

Schuetze explained that, to achieve optimal energy efficiency through insulation, it is important to take into account the so-called called R value or thermal resistivity.

The latter is a combination of the thermal conductivity of the material and the thickness in which it is used.

Polyurethanes, he claimed, have the best in class thermal conductivity. This means that insulation products made of polyurethanes can be thinner compared to polystyrene or rockwool.

However, he pointed out that the insulation is not effective if side measures like air tight seals are neglected.

With regard to installation issues, Schuetze illustrated the two different ways of installing insulation.

One is factory-made insulation like sandwich panels with a core of insulating material, pre-insulated pipes or boards, which just have to be assembled on site.

“This is usually done by professional construction companies,” he said. “The key points here are to avoid thermal bridges and damage on the insulation material as this could lead to a decreased efficiency of the whole system.”

The other installation method is the on-site manufacturing of the insulation in applications like spray foam for walls and roofs.

“All insulation material requires proper handling and installation to achieve a good insulation performance,” he emphasised.

In Schuetze’s opinion, the region has shown good progress in setting quality standards for insulation products and, especially Dubai Municipality has taken the lead in this.

“The current standards are very much oriented towards the European norms with local adaptations,” he said.

Furthermore, he pointed out, thanks to government initiatives, end-users have become increasingly aware of the importance of a reliable insulation system.

“Effective insulation of houses, cold storages, refrigerated trucks, pipelines, etc., contributes to a large extent to energy savings and can contribute to reducing the impact of global warming,” Schuetze argued.

Last month, Dubai-based Hira Industries, which manufactures rubber and polyethylene products, tapes, ventilation accessories and Diamond pipe supports, opened a new insulation factory in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, “to meet the increasing demand for insulation materials in the Middle East, Africa and India”, the company pointed out.

“Hira is the main local player when it comes to products concerning the HVAC field with a tradition of more than 30 years,” Hira, Managing Director and owner of Hira Industries said.

He added: “We target the same results also in the foam business and that is why we decided to commit ourselves to the Gulf region by setting up our own production facilities for cross-linked polyethylene, an unique investment of this kind in this region.”

The company, which currently has branches in Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, India and is due to open a new office in Africa, claims to be the only company from the GCC region that can provide both XLPE and NBR pipe insulation.

Hira’s future efforts will be directed towards ensuring technologically advanced insulation solutions complying with British and American standards.

Despite the challenging economic scenario of the last three years, the company strongly believes that the Gulf region remains a very interesting market, also taking into account that the GCC’s construction sector is picking up steadily.

Laurentiu Pestritu, Hira Industries’ Product Manager Insulation Middle East, India & Africa, warned against the risks of faulty installation of insulation material in air conditioning applications.

He pointed out that considerable effort is needed to repair the system if it sustains any damage, as it can prove to be very serious, in case of low-temperature applications.

Proper installation work is, therefore, absolutely necessary, he said, especially when insulating complex pipe systems.

In his opinion, faulty installation work can be easily avoided if insulation contractors follow a few simple rules. Condensation control and minimising heat loss are the two important factors that need to be kept in mind during cold applications. An insulation system has to be protected against moisture penetration, must be thermal-efficient, fire-resistant and easy to install.

“Insulation work needs to be treated seriously, especially when it comes to refrigeration and air conditioning applications,” Pestritu said.

As he explained, the planning of a low-temperature insulation project involves three important aspects: choosing a suitable insulation material; sizing the insulation on the basis of all the calculation parameters, like line temperature, ambient temperature, relative humidity and pipe diameter; and professional installation of the pipe.

“Mistakes in the installation of elastomeric insulation materials usually arise when measuring fittings, cutting the material to size and gluing the parts,” Pestritu said.

“However, errors can also be made when using mounting devices or functional substructures and creating correctly glued joints with ‘alien’ materials, for example, in the vicinity of pipe brackets. Incorrect installation could prove expensive, especially in sensitive areas of pipe brackets.”

Unigulf Development in partnership with IK Insulation Group have recently opened a new manufacturing plant in Dubai, K Flex manufacturing, for the production of elastomeric rubber insulation solutions.

As Dr Bruno Re, the company’s Director of International Sales and Marketing, pointed out, the new Dubai plant, will be the fourth largest in the world of closed cell elastomeric insulation.

At a technical seminar hosted by Leminar in October last year, representatives of KIMMCO, part of the insulation group of Kuwait-headquartered Al Ghanim Industries, showcased the company’s rockwool and glasswool insulation products.

During the seminar, Shahid Khan, Vice President-Insulation Group at Al Ghanim Industries, said that rockwool is needed for industrial applications such as boilers, while Dr Kailash Chandra, Senior Manager-Technical at KIMMCO went on to say that several parameters dictate the choice of insulation material for a particular project, including the U value and fire safety.

Dr Chandra, who delivered a detailed presentation on rockwool and glasswool, said that both of them are resistant to fire. In addition, rockwool and glasswool also have good acoustic performance and, owing to their solid and tightly bound nature, boast good thermal performance.

He also pointed out that, unlike foam and other insulating materials, glasswool and rockwool are environmentally friendly.

Khan, on the other hand, emphasised that good insulation is fundamental to increasing energy efficiency in buildings. “Forty per cent of the world’s energy is used in buildings,” he said. “Cooling or heating to 22°C, plus or minus two, requires energy. Power plants produce energy, but they also release carbon into the atmosphere. You can save energy through insulation.”

He was echoed by Dr Chandra, who explained that insulation in HVAC saves energy, stops condensation and reduces noise. Glasswool and rockwool, in particular, he claimed, come with additional benefits.

The two insulating materials, he said, are available in flexible, semi-rigid and rigid forms; are light in weight and compressible; suitable for a wide range of temperatures (from -200°C to 800°C) and do not promote the growth of mould, bacteria and fungus.

He added that they don’t not show any ageing; are resistant to fire; have almost zero GWP (global warming potential) and ODP (ozone depleting potential) and could meet almost any application requirement in a building.

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