Rockwool: Pioneering Sustainability in Insulation

The heat is on

Rockwool is the UK’s leading manufacturer of mineral wool insulation for thermal, fire and acoustic protection

By 2016 all new homes in England and Wales will have to meet the Government’s aim of becoming ‘zero carbon’- a very ambitious target. To reach zero carbon, all CO2 emissions that are associated with space heating, water heating and lighting in the home must be zero or negative.Additionally, all CO2 emissions from cooking and domestic appliances must be offset. This offset can be achieved with power generation that is directly connected to the home or development – the use of commercial carbon offsetting schemes is not likely to be acceptable. These targets come as a result of Western countries becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the potentially negative environmental effects of energy-intensive lifestyles and economies.

However, it can be argued that too much attention has been given to newly built properties, while not enough effort has been provided to improve older, less energy efficient housing. Hans Schreuder, managing director for Rockwool Ltd comments: “There is no doubt about the need for reducing our energy consumption due to rising energy costs and other environmental issues, but there is too much focus on newbuild. We believe the most efficient way to reduce energy emissions is just to reduce consumption.

“Buildings currently account for 44 per cent of carbon emissions in the UK. Therefore, it is not enough to just concentrate on new homes – if we could bring existing buildings up to the same standards as new developments most of the CO2 emission targets would be met,” Hans adds.

Rockwool Issue 4 2008 bRockwool, based near Bridgend in South Wales, is the UK’s leading manufacturer of mineral wool insulation for thermal, fire and acoustic protection. The natural characteristics of the company’s mineral wool provide a combination of advantages – it is energy saving, which reduces fuel bills and has a positive overall impact on the environment, it protects buildings through its fire safety capabilities, and it offers acoustic improvements, which reduce noise nuisance.

Hans continues: “Rockwool Ltd is part of the larger Rockwool International organisation and has been present in the UK for the past 30 years. Today, we offer a very broad range of insulation solutions for a number of different sectors, including residential, commercial and industrial. One of the main benefits of our insulation material is that it is completely recyclable – we can take back used Rockwool products and fully integrate them again into our production process, which then converts them into new products – a truly cradle-to-cradle process. The combination of this and the fact that our products are highly energy efficient and non-combustible makes us unique in the market place.”

One particular product, which has proved popular in a wide range of industries, is Rockwool Flexi. This highly insulating, sustainable and non-combustible insulation solution has been used in the groundbreaking ruralZED house, which was launched at this year’s Ecobuild event and claims to be the most sustainable house design ever produced. The design goes far beyond the requirements of level six of the Code for Sustainable Homes (which, amongst other demands, requires homes to be zero carbon). It combines versatile design, unrivalled sustainability, innovative energy efficiency measures and affordability.

Hans comments: “We have been involved in this project from the very beginning. All the materials used in the house have been thoroughly tested and carefully selected for their buildability, advanced multi-functional performance and sustainability credentials. For example, Rockwool’s Flexi insulation, which was used abundantly in the building, not only provides excellent thermal insulation, it is also extremely sustainable. For example, being rated A+ in accordance with the BRE Green Guide, non-combustible and provides very high levels of acoustic protection.”

Rockwool Flexi is a stone wool product, which features a natural ‘spring’ to ensure a tight fit that eliminates air gaps between products and other elements of the building structure. The product flexes with the building structure in order to maintain this tight fit despite possible shrinkage of the building structure throughout its life. In addition, Flexi moulds round any surface irregularities like bolts and fastenings, unlike rigid plastic foam insulations, minimising the risk of heat loss through air gaps in and around the insulation, which can significantly degrade the thermal performance of the building structure.

Hans comments: “At Rockwool we are passionate about our role in promoting sustainable building practices and raising awareness about the advantages of using stone wool insulation. This is why we were involved in the ruralZED project. Rockwool is also committed to minimising the use of resources and emissions of pollutants during the manufacture of its high performance products and systems. We recycle significant quantities of off-cuts and production waste back into the manufacturing process, along with carefully selected by-products from other industries and postconsumer recyclate.”

Rockwool has a significant recycled content and is 100 per cent recyclable, helping to reduce the growing problem presented by waste sent to landfill. Furthermore, Rockwool has underlined its belief in the buoyant future of the UK’s sustainable building market by investing approximately £70 million to double UK manufacturing capacity at its Bridgend plant in South Wales by the end of 2008. Hans explains: “Rockwool has seen a phenomenal increase in demand for its products and services. In a climate where other manufacturers struggle to meet growing legislative pressures for greater transparency over the fire and thermal performance of insulation, Rockwool products provide a complete solution, which leaves the rest of the market behind.

“We are currently progressing extremely well on this significant project. The new facilities will be using state-of-the-art technology, which will improve efficiency and also reduce our impact on the environment,” Hans adds.

The expansion includes the introduction of one of the world’s most technically advanced production lines, enabling the development of higher quality, lower-density products for the UK, Irish and European markets. Furthermore, the investment incorporates new warehousing, technical support and distribution facilities to support the increased capacity and ensure a responsive and flexible service, industry-wide. As an integrated part of the investment a recycling facility is being built that will allow 100 per cent re-integration of used Rockwool material into the production process which highlights the sustainability credentials of the products. Moreover, to meet the needs of distributors and merchants, the investment includes significant advances in palletisation.Rockwool Issue 4 2008 c

Hans explains: “We have recently introduced palletisation to improve our service offering. We used to provide our customers with loose packages but we now supply all our products on pallets. As a result, our clients’ supply chain is more efficient and lead times are dramatically reduced. For example, in the past a bulk delivery would take up to ten days but we can now supply this within two to three days.

“When developing new products and services, we always look at what specific requirements our customers have. I believe that an average customer doesn’t exist – you have to tailor products to meet different clients’ needs. Before we introduced palletisation, we worked very closely with our customers to make sure that this change would live up to their expectations. In addition, we also develop new initiatives based on experience from other countries. As we are present all over Europe, we have a good source of input, which gives us an indication of whether certain developments will be successful or not,” he adds.

Due to the slowdown in the housing market, construction companies are looking at new ways to meet their customers’ needs. Rockwool has a positive outlook on the current market situation and the company believes developments, such as the investment into the Bridgend plant, will secure the business’ long-term future. Hans explains: “Although the market has slowed down at the moment, we are making investments, which will benefit the business long into the future. We are not like other manufacturers, which for example build facilities where there are low labour costs, and then move the site a few years later because they have found somewhere more competitive. When we invest in new products, services or facilities we carefully assess the market to ensure we are meeting current and future market demands.”

As mentioned before, one of the most significant market drivers at the moment is sustainability. For both new and old buildings, Rockwool’s insulation material offers many environmental benefits, which are unrivalled on the market. The natural characteristics of this material were discovered over a century ago.

Around 1900, scientists on the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea found a strange wool-like material hanging in trees. Known as Queen Pele’s hair by the locals, analysis showed it to be strands of volcanic rock produced by a combination of volcanic eruptions and the prevailing wind; and to have exceptional qualities – it was fire proof, had superb insulating properties and was wholly natural. In 1937, Gustav Kahler brought the volcanic principle to Denmark and set up Rockwool’s first factory near Copenhagen. The sub-zero conditions of Danish winters created a huge demand for building insulation materials and the company began to refine a process, which would imitate nature in the creation of rock wool.

A small cupola furnace was created to melt the rock and a series of processes turned it into wool. It was an immediate success and refinement made the process more efficient with applications for industries and the home. By the end of the 1990s Rockwool had grown significantly with 21 factories in Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Wales, France, Canada, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy. Today, the Rockwool organisation is represented in more than 30 countries worldwide and has production facilities in 14 countries, from Canada in the West to Malaysia in the East.

The natural characteristics of the mineral wool insulation are today more beneficial than ever. Rockwool continuously researches and develops building products to ensure they meet and exceed regulatory requirements. For example, the FirePro range is specifically designed to provide a comprehensive choice of fire protection and fire-stopping solutions. Furthermore, extra minutes gained by the presence of Rockwool fire barrier products can save people, property and reduce environmental damages.

Rockwool stone wool also has an open structure making it ideal for absorbing and regulating noise. The company’s products reduce eardeafening noise from machines or the activities of people, and provide ambient situations that allow normal conversation. Rockwool’s SoundPro range is specially designed to provide a comprehensive choice of sound insulation that can be used to meet and out-perform the requirements of Approved Document E (ADE) of the building regulations, which sets out clear and decisive criteria for sound insulation performance for all types of residential accommodation, including dwellings, hotels, student halls of residence, residential homes, and also schools.

Lastly, and most importantly, the organisation’s recyclable products are amongst the most sustainable insulation products available. But for Rockwool, its commitment to sustainability does not stop there. From the moment the raw materials used in the fabrication process are extracted, the business’ products become part of a unique chain of sustainable events, which is called this the RockCycle.

The cycle has four stages – origin, creation, function and replenishment – and starts deep underground. In the origin stage, Magma, which is forced up through cracks, solidifies to form Diabase, an igneous rock. Rockwool is a natural product made from diabase volcanic rock, one of the most abundant raw materials on our planet, which is naturally replenishing and is sustainable for countless generations to come. This material is the key to Rockwool’s insulation solutions, which deliver superior thermal, fire, acoustic and sustainable performance. The natural process by which Diabase is formed creates new reserves every year, around 38,000 times more than the Rockwool Group of companies extract. This unique process of natural renewal completes the RockCycle and delivers true sustainability.

It is this process, which sets the company apart from others in the market. Rockwool’s goal now is to raise the awareness of energy efficiency through the use of insulation. Hans explains: “Approximately 85 per cent of the world’s energy comes from nonrenewable sources, such as oil and gas. The world’s consumption is growing, but access to cheap energy is declining. This energy inefficiency makes us vulnerable to environmental impacts, soaring energy prices and supply shortages. Burning less fossil fuel has crucial benefits. Energy savings are absolutely essential if we want to reduce air pollution and climate change. Reducing energy waste in the first place is both most economical and most sustainable.”

Furthermore, although there has been a significant focus on new homes, the government has now introduced a new initiative, which since 14 December 2007, states that every home put on the market, no matter what size, must have a Home Information Pack. This pack includes an Energy Performance Certificate that contains advice on how to cut CO2 emissions and fuel bills. Although there may be no regulatory requirement to upgrade energy performance standards for existing houses, this development has stimulated householders to upgrade insulation and install other energy efficiency measures to be able to quote a better Energy Rating for their house on sale. This opens up a plethora of opportunities for Rockwool, as Hans concludes: “Watch this space!”