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Hockey, Peacekeeping and HFO

Carbon reduction innovation in closed-cell foam insulation

By Rocky Boyer

Canada has been a leader in two of the most important and influential global topics for the past 60 years—Peacekeeping and Hockey.  While these two subjects are still important to its identity, Canada is now emerging as a world leader in the sustainability, climate change, and resiliency movement.

Some key facts about Canada is that it has the second largest land mass in the world (9.9 million m2), is ranked as one of the coldest countries in the world, but what may come as a surprise is that Canada accounts for only 2.0% of annual fossil fuel emissions (Figure 1). 

As Canadians, we are blessed with approximately 900 million acres of forests with each 2.5 acres of forest absorbing six  tons of CO2 per year.  While the country benefits from the natural carbon sequestration systems, Canada’s government and its citizens are working hard to reduce emissions even further.  One of these major carbon reducing actions falls within the construction industry and, more specifically, thermal insulation.

Thermal insulation, whether traditional or high performing, all require energy and fuel to extract, produce and transport. Only when this insulation is installed in a thermal application (not acoustic or aesthetic) can the energy and carbon savings occur. I define traditional insulation as insulation that uses trapped air (batt insulation) for its thermal performance, and high-performance insulation as insulation that uses trapped gas (sprayed polyurethane foam, board stock foam) for its performance in conjunction with an air, or air/vapour retarder system.I hear all the time, although not technically correct, that “insulation saves energy!” Not all insulation reduces energy consumption when you consider products such as acoustic panels or aesthetic tiles.

Insulation has the potential to save energy and carbon when installed in an application where there is resistance to the transfer of heat provided by a heat source. This article will focus on the carbon reduction innovation within the closed-cell foam insulation market which includes spray polyurethane foam insulation and board stock, as this is the area where we saw the biggest technological advancement in the insulation industry in decades.

To understand the innovation and advancement in high performing insulations, we must dive into the evolution of the main component—blowing agent gases. The first-generation blowing agent gases used in thermal insulation were very effective and had high R-value potential. The downside of these agents was their negative environmental impact.  The CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) had an ODP (Ozone Depletion Potential) of 1 and a startling GWP (Global Warming Potential) of 8000.  A GWP of 8000 is essentially 8000 times worse than the environmental impact of carbon dioxide.

Rockford Boyer, B. Arch. Sc., MBSc, BSS, is a building science leader at Elastochem Specialty Chemicals and brings over 20 years of technical knowledge in sustainable building design. Regarded as an expert in the field of building performance, Rockford works closely with architects using energy modelling technology to implement sustainable design strategies.