Today, the materials available for building insulation suffer from a tradeoff between price, thermal insulation performance and flammability. This has lead to use of plastic insulation (high performance, low price, suboptimal fire-retardancy) in tall buildings. The tragedy of Grenfell where plastic-based insulation was used, led to new regulation banning the use of any combustible materials in tall buildings. Coupled with increasingly ambitious regulations on energy efficiency (fuelled by the 1.5 degrees aspiration of the Paris Agreement); regulation leaves construction firms squeezed for options.
In the UK alone, 6.5m solid-walled homes have to use energy-inefficient solutions (for example, because of the need to maintain wall permeability). In London alone, an estimated 31,000 new tall buildings per year will seek a material that is A2 fire-rated as well as energy-efficient. As regulations become tighter, this number will only increase.
Beating the trade-off between price, thermal performance and non-combustibility is a hard chemistry problem. Aerogels are a class of intrinsically non-combustible and super-insulating materials, but have historically only been used for niche applications such as aerospace due to their batch-chemical processing leading to extremely high prices. Thermulon has developed the world’s first continuous aerogel production process which brings the price down and opens up commercial application of aerogels in mass-markets like construction.
The team is working with world leaders in both aerogel synthesis and scale-ups of chemical manufacturing to eliminate many of the high-cost inputs and process steps which have held back the mass commercialisation of aerogels. Thermulon have £multi-million evaluation agreements in place, a proof of concept product and testing partners in place to take their product to market.