During my time at Kingspan Insulation I have been involved in developments that have helped to put this material well ahead of even the best performing PIR time and again. The better we can make our insulation, the better we can make use of the space in new buildings, the easier it is to refurbish existing ones, and the easier it is to comply with building Regulations and Standards. This is why we have put so much time effort and resources into developing the phenolic range.

So what do I mean by rigid thermoset insulation? Basically, it is created by mixing several polymer or resin based compounds; the mixture reacts, creating heat and releasing small bubbles of gas that become encapsulated in the polymer as it forms due to additives within the reagents. These bubbles inhibit the passage of heat through the final product, giving it a low thermal conductivity, or lambda. The mixture is poured between two facings and passed through an oven to set.

Of course, the actual manufacturing process is far more complex than that.  Years of research have gone into trialling and testing the precise combinations of chemicals, the effects of different blowing agents, the proportion of gas to solid matter, and how long it needs to be ‘baked’ under pressure. Even small variations can have a big impact on performance.

The first major improvement to our Kooltherm phenolic range came at the end of 2008, when we succeeded in bringing the lambda down from 0.021 W/m.K to 0.020 W/m.K. This showed us what could be achieved by optimisation of the existing chemistry and processes, and set us on the road to manufacturing boards with even lower lambda – the 0.018 W/m.K that we have just achieved.

The exciting thing about this development is that the lambda value does not change – whatever thickness of the insulant you use.

It is amazing what a difference other relatively small changes can make. Applying a different facer, for example can alter how the product performs in any given application. Take our new lower lambda Kooltherm K106 Cavity Board; using a watertight, vapour-open polypropylene fleece facer instead of the usual foil reflective one has allowed us to reduce the necessary air gap in a masonry cavity wall from 50 mm to just 10 mm.

The enhanced performance of the board itself means a further reduction in thickness, so the whole wall construction could be as much as 45-50 mm slimmer than using a standard phenolic board, never mind any other kind of insulation.

Small changes, small savings; they all add up to a significant whole.

Please note that this post was first published on LinkedIn.

See also our Head of Technical & Marketing’s thoughts on the ‘why’ behind lower lambda insulation.