Material matters: why insulating mineral foams make for safer, more sustainable constructions
While a building’s structure might make it a house, a building’s insulation will make it a home. And, while a builder might have many insulation options to choose from, only one can claim to be totally safe: mineral foams.
This is a regrettable truth. In the event that a building does go up in flames, it must rely on the smart and responsible materials and design choices made by its designers to slow the rate of spread. The slower the spread, the higher the chance of survival for both the occupants and the structure itself.
Take the tragic example of the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington, West London. On June 14, 2017, an electrical fault in a refrigerator caused a fire to break out in the 24-storey residential high-rise, in turn ending the lives of 72 people and injuring 70 more. The disaster, the UK’s worst residential fire since World War II, was later found out to be directly linked to the non-compatible insulation-external cladding combination used. The deadly mix of flammable aluminum-polyethylene cladding and polyisocyanurate insulation together with an air gap between the two acted like a chimney that spread the fire rapidly. Today, the Grenfell fire represents a wake-up call to planners and builders to look for better ways to build and insulate.
Introducing Insulating Mineral Foams
“Non flammable, easily recyclable, pourable, pumpable, and even rot proof, Imerys’ very lightweight mineral foam insulators are new, patented, materials that combine the properties of construction material with those of thermal insulation,” explains Laurent Torres, Marketing Director at Imerys Building & Infrastructure.
Insulating mineral foams come in two main types: one based on cement quickset by calcium aluminate and one based on metakaolin-based geopolymer, which requires different practices that manufacturers are used to. They differ mainly when it comes to properties. While better produced off-site due to their as-of today high pH levels, geopolymers bond extremely well and are very suitable for application on metallic substrates. “They also have a better firing resistance than cement foam because in a fire the cement’s water is impacted, unlike with geopolymers which do not contain hydration phase,” adds Murielle Perronnet, Imerys Science & Technology Director for Ceramics & Building Products EMEA. “This passive fire resistance can save time and lives.”
“Mineral foams require little energy and few materials to be produced, mixing and shaping sand, cement, foam and water to the requirements of the end user,” continues Laurent Torres. “This can be done either on-site or in the factory, according to the density needed for the job. Once no longer needed, mineral foams are completely recyclable because of their 100% mineral composition. They do not contain the additives found in polymer-based insulators, such as rock wool and even glass wool that give off toxic fumes when burnt.”
“Most importantly, insulating mineral foams are truly inert to fire, unlike many other thermal insulation options out there. All the benefits combine to create products that are suitable and applicable anywhere, from cavity and road filling to screed sub floors, precast bricks, boards and panels.”
A boost for circularity
“Circularity matters,” says Hervé Fryda, Imerys Science & Technology Director for Building & Infrastructure. “Material manufacturers are facing increased regulation with regards to building deconstruction. In France, for example, they are looking into a variable tax for producers to fund the recycling of waste products, taxed according to the calculated environmental footprints of the producers themselves. So, it is only natural for them to gravitate towards solutions such as mineral foams that are fully recyclable and still fireproof.”
The future of buildings is safe and sustainable
Our buildings matter, and so do their materials. With so many (good and bad) options out there for designers, project managers and builders to choose from, it is vital to maintain focus on why we build. We build to improve and we improve to build. Indeed, we are working on the upscaling of the patented concept “Just Add Water” which will allow the making of geopolymer in a safer way for builders . We build to work, educate, entertain and care. We build to thrive. Mineral foam solutions might just be part of the bigger picture, but they represent the next chapter in safer, more sustainable choices for the buildings of tomorrow.
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