Building Energy Technology: Cold Climate Building Enclosure Solutions

Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems

Shredded aerogel blankets ready to be used as insulation materials.

Project Motivation

Several new insulation technologies are slowly finding their way into buildings. Of these, vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) and aerogels are among the most promising. However, the future success of these kinds of insulation solutions depends on their cost-effectiveness, as well as their thermal performance and durability as compared to existing conventional technologies.

 

The main goal of this project was to investigate the energy performance and cost effectiveness of several state-of-the-art retrofit strategies that could be used in residential houses in the Boston and New England area. To this end, the CSE Building Enclosures Team evaluated the value of several emerging building enclosure technologies, including high performance aerogel and vacuum insulations, in forms that would be durable, energy efficient, flexible enough for a number of different retrofit scenarios, and potentially cost-competitive for deep energy retrofits.

 

Finding Cost-Effective Insulation Options

CSE analyzed and compared the cost and performance of emerging high performance insulation technologies with conventional insulation methods in home energy retrofit situations. In particular, the team investigated the economic feasibility of applying VIPs and aerogels as a potential building thermal insulation material for wall retrofit applications. Surprisingly, very little has been done so far to evaluate their cost effectiveness, although this is a crucial factor to determine the potential application and limitation of these technologies.

 

Going forward, CSE's researchers plan to apply the insights gained through cost analysis and thermal lab testing to evaluate the in-field performance of aerogel and VIP-based retrofit strategies for northern US climates.

 

Blown-In Aerogels: A Novel Insulation Concept

Based on their findings, the CSE team also proposed developing a new and highly effective type of thermal insulation option for cold-climate homes – blown-cavity insulation using shredded aerogel material. While this concept is not yet market-ready, CSE found that blown-in aerogels have the potential to be a major cost-saver for niche areas of building insulation.

 

A Building America Project

This assessment work was one of several research projects undertaken by a Fraunhofer CSE-led research team under a task order from the US Department of Energy's Building America Program.