ISOBIO: Low impact bio-based construction materials ready for the mass market

Brussels – Construction industry stakeholders and policy makers gathered on 29 January in Brussels to discuss the potential of natural bio-based materials to help Europe meet its climate obligations. The event was organised by the Horizon 2020 project ISOBIO, which hopes its innovations will be a game changer for bio-based construction.

We have known for a long time that bio-based construction materials offer multiple benefits for the climate, the environment and building occupants. Within the ISOBIO project we have developed new and improved insulation solutions, suitable for adoption in largescale mass housing projects, housing and industrial retrofit as well as small scale individual projects. These improvements can help bio-based materials move from a niche to a mainstream solution”, said Mike Lawrence, University of Bath and ISOBIO Technical Manager, during the meeting.

Novel low-impact solutions

ISOBIO partners presented their new solutions to over 70 stakeholders present at the event. The outcome of the project is three novel, low-impact materials:

  • the ISOBIO board – an entirely bio-based insulation board, consisting of hemp bound with a bio-based binder;
  • an insulating lime render utilising a high proportion of hemp shiv as aggregate;
  • an insulating clay plaster with enhanced moisture buffering properties.

These innovative materials have also been combined into a composite structural panel, which can be used either as the external envelope in new build or as an external or internal retrofit panel.

The new solutions are very energy efficient: compared to a standard UK house, the ISOBIO structural panel would reduce heating requirements by 45%, resulting in savings of €2.42/m2per year (almost €500 per year for a 200m2home), according to monitoring and modelling conducted by Progetic. As explained by Callum Hill (NIBIO), the ISOBIO solutions are also ultra low carbon. This is due to the global warming potential (climate change impact) of the ISOBIO structural panel (27.5 kgCO2e per m2of panel) being around one quarter that of a standard UK new-build wall, but also because of the large quantity of atmospheric carbon stored in the biogenic material in the panel. Material costs are also considerably lower for the ISOBIO panel, compared to the state-of-the-art reference wall in the UK and Spain, by 28% and 56%, respectively. Furthermore, construction costs are reduced, because of the modular design.

Policies to boost bio-based construction

In order to achieve EU targets and respect the Paris Agreement, policy makers are urgently seeking strategies to decarbonise construction, which is known as one of the most carbon intensive industries. During the event speakers presented a range of policy options being implemented at national and local levels in Europe.

Jannik Giesekam (University of Leeds) told participants how a number of UK developers and local authorities are setting carbon targets for building projects. This encourages building designers to think carefully about the embodied carbon in materials and encourages the use of wood and other bio-based materials.

In France, the E+C- (energy plus, carbon less) scheme aims to marry high energy performance with low embodied carbon, explained Nicolas Dutreix (Nomadéis). The labelling scheme has been piloted across France, and has proven to be a successful way of promoting bio- and waste-based materials.

Next steps for ISOBIO

After four years, the ISOBIO project will end on 31 January 2019. Partners expect that the newly developed solutions will be entering the market in 2020. Progetic has produced a set of construction details, offering practical information to architects, contractors, developers and engineers who are looking to use the ISOBIO system in a low-embodied energy, nearly-zero energy construction. All results and documentation from the project will remain available on the project website, together with the presentations from the event.

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