How Vacuum Insulation is used in Europe

OPTIMR

Every two years experts and specialists in vacuum insulation meet at the International Vacuum Insulation Symposium (IVIS) conference.  This year the 11th IVIS conference was held in Zurich, attracting 150 visitors from all over the world who presented and exchanged the latest results of their vacuum insulation research and development.

During the two days 30 speakers talked about aging effects, reliability, potential raw materials and, of course, applications. In this article I want to focus on these applications and what we can learn from those countries that have been using vacuum insulation longer than we have here in the UK.

Compared to the United Kingdom, continental Europe and especially Germany has a long tradition of using Vacuum Insulation Panels (VIPs) such as Kingspan´s Optim-R.

One of the oldest test facades in Europe is over 13 years old and the reliability of the product is proven in an on-going monitored program. (http://www.ecbcs.org/annexes/annex39.htm). This is one of the reasons why Europe is more open to vacuum insulation and why it is used more often than in the UK.

Whenever a building is refurbished there may be projects where space is limited or unavailable but good insulation is required. In these cases vacuum insulation could help solve the problem. One Swiss case study shown at IVIS was the refurbishment of a balcony with a heated room underneath. The existing balcony had a U-value of 0.74W/m2.K. The build up included a 50 mm thick layer of cork panels in-between two layers of bitumen. This build up was replaced with a new bitumen layer, a protection layer, 40 mm vacuum insulation, and again, protection and bitumen layer. Overall the thickness was the same than before the change, but the U-value improved from 0.74 to 0.17 W/m2.K – a reduction in heat loss of nearly 80%! The same insulation performance with conventional material would be around 160 mm thicker, meaning it would be higher than the balcony door threshold and therefore not practical.

However, vacuum insulation can not only be used in refurbishment, but also in new buildings.

Another case study at IVIS presented by T. Voellinger from the technical University EPFL, Switzerland. The system he presented was a combination of vacuum insulation and pre-cast concrete sandwich elements. In this application the VIP is embedded between two layers of EPS which is then encapsulated within two layers of concrete. Of these two layers only the inner layer is taking the load of the building; the external layer of concrete is used to protect the insulation and provide a design feature for the building facade. Connectors between the concrete layers hold the structure together. The beauty of this system is that these elements are created off-site in factory-controlled conditions, requiring a crane on-site just as you would with a standard structurally insulated panel (SIP). The insulation of each wall panel is just 140 mm achieving a U-value of 0.1 W/m2.K. To achieve such a low U-value with traditional insulation would result in a much thicker overall wall construction.

It’s good to see so many countries adopting and are seeing the benefits of vacuum insulation, and far from being ‘new’ or ‘unproven’, vacuum insulation is here to stay.

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About

Daniel Mack studied physics at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Part of the course included a work placement in industry. Daniel opted to work at a German vacuum insulation panel (VIP) manufacturer. After his studies finished, he became research and development manager at that manufacturer, responsible for innovation, problem solving and development of vacuum insulation panels. This involved collaborating with different sectors including construction, home appliances and transport to help solve their energy and insulation problems. Daniel joined the Kingspan Insulation OPTIM-R team in 2012 to focus on vacuum insulation quality and future development.

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