Advances in Thermal Insulation : Vacuum Insulation Panels and Thermal Efficiency to Reduce Energy Usage in Buildings
Abstract: We are coming to realize that there is an urgent need to reduce energy usage in buildings and it has to be done in a sustainable way. This thesis focuses on the performance of the building envelope; more precisely thermal performance of walls and super insulation material in the form of vacuum insulation. However, the building envelope is just one part of the whole building system, and super insulators have one major flaw: they are easily adversely affected by other problems in the built environment. Vacuum Insulation Panels are one fresh addition to the arsenal of insulation materials available to the building industry. They are composite material with a core and an enclosure which, as a composite, can reach thermal conductivities as low as 0.004 W/(mK). However, the exceptional performance relies on the barrier material preventing gas permeation, maintaining a near vacuum into the core and a minimized thermal bridge effect from the wrapping of barrier material round the edge of a panel. A serpentine edge is proposed to decrease the heat loss at the edge. Modeling and testing shows a reduction of 60% if a reasonable serpentine edge is used. A diffusion model of permeation through multilayered barrier films with metallization coatings was developed to predict ultimate service life. The model combines numerical calculations with analytical field theory allowing for more precise determination than current models. The results using the proposed model indicate that it is possible to manufacture panels with lifetimes exceeding 50 years with existing manufacturing. Switching from the component scale to the building scale; an approach of integrated testing and modeling is proposed. Four wall types have been tested in a large range of environments with the aim to assess the hygrothermal nature and significance of thermal bridges and air leakages. The test procedure was also examined as a means for a more representative performance indicator than R-value (in USA). The procedure incorporates specific steps exposing the wall to different climate conditions, ranging from cold and dry to hot and humid, with and without a pressure gradient. This study showed that air infiltration alone might decrease the thermal resistance of a residential wall by 15%, more for industrial walls. Results from the research underpin a discussion concerning the importance of a holistic approach to building design if we are to meet the challenge of energy savings and sustainability. Thermal insulation efficiency is a main concept used throughout, and since it measures utilization it is a partial measure of sustainability. It is therefore proposed as a necessary design parameter in addition to a performance indicator when designing building envelopes. The thermal insulation efficiency ranges from below 50% for a wood stud wall poorly designed with incorporated VIP, while an optimized design with VIP placed in an uninterrupted external layer shows an efficiency of 99%, almost perfect. Thermal insulation efficiency reflects the measured wall performance full scale test, thus indicating efficiency under varied environmental loads: heat, moisture and pressure. The building design must be as a system, integrating all the subsystems together to function in concert. New design methodologies must be created along with new, more reliable and comprehensive measuring, testing and integrating procedures. New super insulators are capable of reducing energy usage below zero energy in buildings. It would be a shame to waste them by not taking care of the rest of the system. This thesis details the steps that went into this study and shows how this can be done.
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