Producers show their green credentials

Green with envy?

23 April 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Chemical firms are keen to jump on the green bandwagon, but customers remain skeptical

POLYURETHANE (PU) market players were keen to showcase their latest green products when they convened at the UTECH conference 2009, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in March. Their bullishness, however, was not shared by some customers who doubted the viability of investing in energy-efficient products amid the current financial crisis.

"Energy saving [in the form of insulation] has vast potential. Energy saving saves money," said US-based Huntsman's senior manager business communications, Michael Scharf.

Various companies are working in tandem with European government programs to help promote energy efficiency through projects such as renovation of public buildings, as well the integration of renewable energy sources into the built environment.

"The government [insulation] renovation projects provide a good opportunity to create jobs and are good for environmental sustainability", said the CEO of German firm Bayer MaterialScience (BMS), Patrick Thomas.

Examples include among others BMS' development of metal faced sandwich panels with extended audio functionality, used in public buildings such as railway stations. These panels are fitted with solar energy films to provide simultaneous energy production and thermal insulation on roofs.

Another BMS innovation is the EcoCommercial Building climate concept, which uses highly efficient thermal insulation materials and adapts them to benefit from various climate zones.

The company's first project is the Bayer Material New Innovations center now being built in Greater Noida, near New Delhi, India.

This building will reduce energy consumption by approximately 70% when compared to similar buildings in this part of India, and is expected to produce no emissions. The company states that "through this type of optimization, this concept could significantly contribute to boosting climatic protection when implemented on a global scale."

Huntsman has also developed a greener polyisocyanture (PIR) fire retardant sandwich panel, which does not require an adhesive coating layer.

"One less step in the production process is cost, and environmentally, more efficient," said Scharf.

In addition to the traditional characteristics of PU foam such as light weight, excellent thermal insulation and moisture resistance, it has superior fire-resistance properties, in line with stricter fire requirements. PIR production requires a higher amount of methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI), resulting in a thermally more stable product, according to the company.

US manufacturer Honeywell is developing a new, low global warming potential blowing agent for energy efficient polyurethane foam insulation. It says, "the new blowing agent is a nonflammable liquid that will assist customers in reducing the overall environmental impact on foam. This product is expected to have performance benefits comparable to traditional fluorocarbons, but with a low global warming potential."

In 2008, Honeywell commercialized a gaseous liquid blowing agent based on hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) technology, characterized by its zero ozone depletion, low global warming potential, and nonflammability and plans to replace its hydrofluorocarbon counterparts in accordance with tightening environmental policy.

"The green revolution is great news for us and those with energy-efficient products," said Honeywell's managing director, Rene Muller.

Customers, however, have reservations about the practicality of these initiatives.

One customer said it considers the green cause a good one in theory, but in practice it doesn't see the public investing in renovating and insulating their homes in the current climate when people are losing their jobs. The source doubts whether people will be motivated to do it.

Downstream demand in the construction sector for new builds remains sluggish, while some improvement in the renovation of existing builds is noted.

There is also some evidence of regional variation. Activity in the building sector in the UK, Ireland, parts of Southern and Central Europe are seen to be most affected, while construction in Germany is reported to be faring better. One larger-volume customer says that it reduced its volume requirements by approximately 30% in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, but it still has material "coming out of its ears" due to limited downstream outlets.

"Survival remains the name of the game in these times," adds the source.

Heidi Finch is a markets editor for ICIS pricing, covering polyols, isocyanates, isopropanol (IPA), methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) propylene oxide (PO) and propylene glycol (PG)

By: Heidi Finch
+44 20 8652 3214

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