How will the looming F-gas ban affect XPS insulation?

How will the looming F-gas ban affect XPS insulation?

As part of a wider move to battle the negative effects of climate change, the imminent ban of fluorinated greenhouse gases means manufacturers of extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation must now find eco-friendly alternatives to F-gas from which to make their products.

Applied under laws made in January 2015 (F-Gas Regulation 517/2014), the ban is due to take effect from 2020, as part of the EU’s aim to cut emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases—known as F-gases—by two-thirds (compared to 2014 levels) over the next 10 years.

F-gases are a group of man-made gases that were initially created to replace materials damaging to the ozone layer, such as chloroflorocarbons (CFCs), but they are extremely potent greenhouse gases. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals often used in refrigeration, air conditioning and insulation, make up around 95% of all the F-gases released into the atmosphere, and can remain there for years.

Before the regulation on F-gases was updated in 2015, the European Union first adopted it in 2006 and by 2010, F-gas emissions levels had stabilised.

The original rules that were introduced include:

  • Labelling equipment (including foam products) containing F-gases
  • Recovery of unused F-gases reaching their end-of-life
  • Training and certification for personnel and companies handling F-gases
  • Improved containment of F-gases in their applications

The EU has since reinforced some of the former measures and set a number of ambitious targets. The regulation now forbids manufacturers of such equipment from using HFCs in any new products. This includes the common insulation material extruded polystyrene (XPS), used for insulating boards or panels, which are usually produced with HFC blowing agents. These compounds help give the insulation the closed-cell structure, low thermal conductivity and density it needs.

A material’s impact on the environment can be measured by its:

  • global warming potential (GWP)—how much heat it traps in the air (as a greenhouse gas)
  • ozone depletion potential (ODP)—the amount by which it degrades the ozone layer

HFCs are extremely potent greenhouse gases but don’t deplete the ozone layer.

The upcoming ban means that, from 2020, HFCs with a GWP of more than 150 can no longer be used in XPS insulating foam. The regulation also refers to other types of foam such as polyurethane (PU), phenolic and polyisocyanurate (PIR). These have a range of applications, including laminated panels, domestic appliances and spray foam. All other foams with a GWP over 150 are due to be banned from 2023.

As well as signing up to the Paris Agreement, the EU is phasing out the use of HFCs to help reach its 2050 target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80%–95% compared to 1990 levels. It’s said that if all countries met the agreed targets on cutting F-gas emissions, global temperature rises would fall by 0.5°C this century and so reduce the impact of climate change quite significantly.

Environmentally-friendly insulation material

To prepare for the forthcoming restrictions, Dow Chemical developed a new material, XENERGY SL, a dark-grey XPS intended to replace Styrofoam. The company was first made the product available in the second quarter of 2018.

Made specifically for green roofing applications and inverted roof insulation, XENERGY has the same properties as Blue Styrofoam LBHX. But thanks to its finely dispersed infrared ‘blocking’ particles, it can provide up to 11% better insulation performance.

And because it uses carbon dioxide as a blowing agent, it’s much friendlier to the environment, with a GWP of less than five and an ODP of zero. In comparison, the GWPs of many HFCs or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are commonly more than a thousand times higher.

A spokesperson from suppliers of insulated building products Panel Systems said: “It’s that critical figure that helps the new material gain its environmental credentials. This will help building designers meet increasingly stringent energy efficiency and sustainability demands.

“Customers will still be getting the same mechanical and physical performance but with the new lower thermal conductivity value of 0.031 W/m.K.

“It’s a great new product that’s in line with the regulation and changes.”

Although the updated regulations don’t contain any restrictions that affect existing insulation materials, it might mean XENERGY costs more than Styrofoam because of how differently they are manufactured. Despite this, the improved thermal performance may mean less material is needed to reach the same thermal resistance.

What to consider before installing XENERGY

Building XENERGY into the shape and size that is required for particular designs is easy because the material is strong but lightweight. However, before installing it, consider the following:

  • Before fitting XENERGY SL panels, installers should inspect the roof to make sure it’s clean.
  • XENERGY is compatible with most construction materials. However, if paired with some organic materials (e.g. paint thinners, coal tar, solvent-based wood preservatives), it can shrink, soften and even possibly dissolve.
  • To stop XENERGY panels from deteriorating, they must be shielded from direct sunlight. Instead of dark or clear packaging, white protective packaging should be used to prevent heat building up within the panels.
  • The XENERGY panels should be cut precisely with a sharp knife or fine-toothed saw to make sure they can fit around projections and rainwater outlets.
  • The panels should be laid with compacted shiplap edges in a brick bond pattern.

As it stands, the new regulations won’t necessarily have a huge effect on daily operations within the insulation industry. However, the outcome of Brexit could have a substantial impact on the UK’s laws around F-gases, depending on whether the UK stays in the EU’s quota scheme or organises its own.

Once the terms of Brexit have been approved, UK businesses that continue to trade in Europe may have to join a UK system but continue to follow the rules of the EU quota. This may result in additional costs.

To prepare for the changes, it’s important to budget for any price hikes that may occur, make sure purchasers and fitters comply with the updated regulations and keep a note of when the bans affecting XPS (January 2020) and other foams (January 2023) come into force. The European Commission is due to review the 2014 F-Gas Regulation in 2022.

How will the looming F-gas ban affect XPS insulation?