Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bio Roof Tiles

When the cold weather sets in there is nothing better than having a warm home to seek solace in. But it might raise a few eyebrows to know that over half of home heating could be escaping through the walls and roof of your residential retreat.

Roof insulation, as the name suggests, insulates the roof, keeping the warmth in and the cold out during the winter, while in the Sumer cool air is kept in and the warm air is kept out. However, a properly insulated roof will save money on heating bills as the heating doesn't have to be kept on to compensate for the warmth that escapes through the roof. For many people this is where their understanding of roof insulation ends. 

Illustration of this article

In line with the EU strategy of cutting annual primary energy consumption by 20% by 2020, researchers from Fraunhofer Institut für Werkstoffmechanik have come up with an innovative organic tile. Indeed, these tiles are more resource-efficient than their ceramic counterparts and unlock new creative options for design purposes. Bioplastics made of polylactides (PLA) are becoming more heat-resistant, thereby making them suitable for high-temperature filling processes in the food industry as well.

But what makes them bio? The tiles consist of a mixture of linseed oil epoxy, various natural fibres and diatomaceous earth, a material that is procured from fossilized diatoms. New bio-based tile systems, like the ones designed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Halle, are more environmentally friendly, lighter-weight and - depending on their manufacturing and material properties - more resource- and energy-efficient than conventional ceramic materials. 'The composite is not hard as glass and brittle like conventional epoxy, but flexible and more pliable instead. This makes it easier to work with the tiles,' as Andreas Krombholz, scientist in the natural composites division at IWM, describes another advantage. They also put a completely new spin on architectural perspectives. In the moulding process, they can be shaped on an entirely customized basis, and shaped into squares, triangles or circles, for example.

Even patterns and colours can be tailor-made. Another design advantage is adding fluorescent pigments to the blend, which transforms into light tiles. This means they can be used for both outdoors and indoors, serving as illuminated guideposts on floors and walls. The same bio-tiles can also be installed in kitchens and bathrooms and can serve as indoor floor coverings. There are cost benefits to both producer and customer here: this is because the tiles can handle the impact noise abatement directly, so an entire work step can be dropped from the production process.

Moreover, the packaging industry is increasingly using biopolymers made from polylactides (PLAs) as an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastic. They are obtained from corn starch and completely biodegradable. Previously, however, PLA began to soften at about 60 ºC, so it was not suitable for heat-intensive processes. But now, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam have found a way to make this bioplastic even more heat-resistant. An interesting application comes from the food industry: The filling of yogurt in plastic cups, because this process takes place at higher temperatures. Cups made of PLA stereo complexes retain their shape and remain stable even at temperatures of up to 120 ºC. Dr. Johannes Ganster, division director at IAP, explains the principle behind this: 'To make PLA plastics more form-stable at higher temperatures, we introduced stereo complexes with special components of L-lactides and D-lactides. These right-and-left rotating molecules complement each other and make the bond even more stable.'

Corporations have already expressed tremendous interest, because of the huge potential. Production of biopolymers made of PLA is independent of the growing scarcity of petroleum. In addition, they can be readily composted, and they are ideal for recycling by decomposition in lactic acid. The greatest advantage is that they have since become just as durable and sturdy as any petroleum-based plastic, and can even be used for other products, such as protective films, computer housing and shopping bags adding another step towards a bio-sustainable economy that Europe is aiming to reach.

Contacts and sources:
Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWMH

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