Sustainable Insulation products in the Scottish construction industry

Project Details


This project was funded by Zero Waste Scotland and Built Environment Smarter Transformation (BE-ST) formerly CS-IC and originated after an industry workshop held in March 2021 that discussed ways to support and upskill the construction industry over the different types of sustainable and natural insulation products available. This particular workshop concluded that the construction industry in Scotland needs to gain additional knowledge on natural fibre and recycled insulation materials ability to contribute towards a net-zero economy as well as highlighting their advantages, uses, challenges, barriers and opportunities.

Achieving net-zero carbon performance from the built environment as set out by the Scottish Government by 2045 requires a holistic approach by those involved in the delivery of buildings. This can only be achieved through specific supply chains, private investment and public policy-driven support. A vital piece in achieving net-zero goals is to consider the origin and waste streams of building materials, prioritising the low-embodied carbon options available. Solutions such as the use of locally sourced, natural fibre and recycled (NF+RI) materials are excellent examples of ways to reduce the carbon emitted during the whole life performance of buildings. Considerations such as this present a real opportunity to change how the industry considers natural fibre and recycled materials from being an expensive one-off niche product to being a more mainstream and readily available building material at a competitive cost with comparable performance to synthetic equivalents.

Some NF+RI products already have a place in the UK and Scottish insulation markets. However, only a few are fully produced in the UK and Scotland. Most products of biomaterial origin are produced and imported by companies in mainland Europe through small-scale UK distributors, mainly specialist natural product suppliers, and representatives of EU-established brands. NF+RI products offer solutions to two net-zero performance criteria. They contribute to lowering operational energy and carbon emissions by reducing heat loss through the building envelope, a quality that most insulation materials at varying levels will have. Additionally, they present a much lower environmental footprint by having a lower global warming potential, and if renewable and efficient energy sources are used can claim to be low embodied energy.

Key findings

The following recommendations are based mainly on the review made of current NF+RI products, the current market uptake and the future industry shift to low embodied carbon materials as well as meeting some of the government targets on net-zero performance. To explore the shift into NF+RI products it is important to take four important steps:

1. Have discussions with existing supply chains,
2. Forge agreements with existing manufacturing setups,
3. Introduce biowaste and embodied carbon legislation in construction:
4. Incentivise the construction industry to use NF+RI products:

Future work in this field seeks to explore some of the recommendations mentioned above in three different ways. The first is to explore the different supply chains and manufacturing facilities for the partnerships and shared capacity this industry requires. Also planned is a long-term approach through a PhD studentship with specific laboratory testing and innovation in the use and products from homegrown wood fibre and other fibres. A shorter-term second phase of this project will explore the outreach to the industry on the up-skilling and support needed to make NF+RI competitive against available synthetic products.
Effective start/end date14/02/2215/11/22


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