“Stone wool”: lava-based material is more efficient, lasts longer than most insulation materials

Spiralling use of energy-intensive air conditioners as the world heats is causing spiralling emissions. Better insulation can help.

As the planet seeks and people seek to keep cool, spiralling use of energy-intensive air conditioners is causing a vicious cycle of growing emissions. This alarming trend has the potential to expose up to three-quarters of the world’s population to life-threatening heat and humidity conditions by the year 2100.

The good news is that implementing strategic solutions already exist that could cut the power consumption of cooling equipment by 60% by 2050 — and save trillions of dollars.

Much of the power to cut emissions and improve efficiency lies in the hands of policymakers. In Denmark, for example, the Danish Building Code has played a pivotal role by establishing minimum standards for energy efficiency complemented by Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) to drive enhancements in existing structures.

But policy does not exist in a vacuum — and to improve efficiency, existing materials used in innovative ways as well as the use of novel materials is key. For example, roofing options with insulation are crucial, with internal insulation materials like mineral wool and wood wool being practical choices for houses in colder climates.

Other materials are increasingly coming into play, too. Perhaps most notable is stone wool.

Stone wool: lava-based and coming to a home near you

In the quest for sustainable construction materials, stone wool has emerged as a versatile and environmentally conscious solution, particularly for insulation needs, gaining prominence across Europe.

Stone wool, from the family of mineral wool insulation, is derived from basalt — a fusion of solidified lava ejected from the deepest layers of the Earth. In its refined state, stone wool proves to be a highly versatile material, serving dual roles as an effective insulation solution and a growth medium. The manufacturing process entails the melting of these raw materials at elevated temperatures, followed by the spinning of the molten material into fibres. The resulting wool-like substance undergoes further processing to take on diverse forms, including pipe sections, rolls, boards or loose-fill insulation.

5 things you need to know about stone wool

Here are five things it’s crucial to know about stone wool, a material that could soon be insulating homes worldwide.

1. Natural origins and abundant resources

The widespread availability of basalt rock positions stone wool as a sustainable preference for insulation in construction practices. According to the US Department of Energy, fiberglass insulation, more commonly used, generally comprises 40-60% recycled content, whereas stone wool boasts an average of 75%.

2. Energy efficiency

Despite the high-temperature manufacturing process, stone wool stands out for its exceptional energy efficiency. The material’s impressive thermal resistance (R-value) offsets the initial energy input, contributing to consistent indoor temperatures and reducing the need for extensive heating or cooling. This efficiency not only lowers overall energy consumption in buildings but also aligns with broader initiatives to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions linked to traditional insulation materials. In Ancona, Italy, the F. Socciarelli School achieved an A4 energy performance rating, signifying high energy efficiency and significantly reduced energy consumption with the stone wool insulation.

3. Recyclability and circular economy

Stone wool distinguishes itself through its recyclability. At the end of its lifecycle in a building, stone wool can be gathered, processed and repurposed into new insulation products. This enables a circular economy approach, reducing waste and lessening the demand for fresh raw materials. Furthermore, stone wool scraps are neither soiled nor hazardous. Their sorting, collection and transportation do not necessitate any special conditions, simplifying waste management processes. This is crucial, considering that construction and demolition waste compete with municipal solid waste for disposal space in landfills.

4. Lower carbon footprint

The production of stone wool typically leads to a comparatively lower carbon footprint. The open structure of stone wool, characterized by air and no gases between the fibres, contributes to this environmental advantage. The combination of energy efficiency in the manufacturing process and the use of natural and abundant resources position stone wool as a greener alternative. Global stone wool manufacturers like ROCKWOOL emphasize the importance of reducing carbon intensity as a fundamental step towards meeting science-based absolute emission reduction targets.

5. Long lifespan and durability

The durability of stone wool ensures an extended lifespan when compared to alternative insulation materials. The insulation effectiveness of its products remains constant throughout the entire life of a building. This extended durability results in less frequent replacements, leading to a decrease in the overall environmental impact associated with the production and disposal of insulation materials.

The future of sustainable insulation

The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, holding the title of the world’s longest sea bridge, opted for stone wool in all its inspection buildings. Constructed from stone wool, this material retains its shape and structure, guaranteeing consistent and predictable low energy costs over numerous decades. Its robust durability ensures optimal performance for more than 60 years, even in China’s challenging hot and humid climate, where frequent storms, rainfall and temperature fluctuations could adversely affect other insulation materials.

The Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies Programme, initiated by the International Energy Agency, focuses on six major energy-consuming emerging economies: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa. Together, these countries currently account for one-third of global energy consumption, a share expected to increase. Introducing sustainable insulation in these economies could significantly bolster climate change mitigation.

The transformation of stone wool from basalt rock into a sustainable insulation material underscores a commitment to environmental responsibility. Its sustainable features, along with the potential to substantially contribute to climate change mitigation through reduced energy consumption and a diminished carbon footprint, position stone wool as a promising choice for the future of construction.

In the quest for innovative solutions in the built environment to address climate challenges, stone wool is rapidly emerging as a key material.

This article is republished from the World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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