Swiss researchers have developed a carbon-storing building insulation made from plant-based materials
A Swiss research team from Empa's Building Energy Materials and Components Lab explores the potential for using raw, plant-based materials as insulation for buildings.
Led by scientist Dr. Jannis Wernery and researchers from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the project is based on binding carbon dioxide in insulation materials, preferably waste products from agriculture and forestry, over the long term. This method aims to combat embodied greenhouse gas emissions in buildings by removing carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon stored in biomass can be permanently fixed through the use of heat treatment.
The resulting material, known as biochar, can store carbon dioxide throughout the life of a building and be used again following the deconstruction of a building, reports Rémy Nideröst of Empa. However, Dr. Wernery explains, "there is still a lot to do before the idea can be put into practice."
The researchers must ensure that the new insulation materials can be used as a fertilizer after their use in buildings. Biochar has the capability to be used to increase the fertility of soil. Additionally, the materials must be able to keep up with established products in terms of thermal insulation and guarantee adequate fire protection.
As noted by Empa, an initial analysis of the biochar-based insulation has found that it could save approximately half a million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually by cutting emissions from the production of conventional materials, such as EPS or mineral wool, and through the long-term storage of carbon dioxide in the biochar. The team's research has garnered the support of various funding institutions such as the Minerva Foundation, the ETH Board, and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.