Turning forest waste into an air freshener
Buildings in Spain and Estonia have been fitted with novel construction and insulation materials made from natural fibres and forest waste as part of an EU-funded project demonstrating innovative applications of biocomposites. These materials not only comply with building codes and boost sustainability but also reduce the risk of residents becoming sick.
Poor air quality, inadequate ventilation and the release of volatile organic compounds from many common construction materials and plastics-based coatings are all thought to contribute to Sick Building Syndrome, a condition causing occupants to feel fatigued, nauseous and generally unwell.
The EU-funded OSIRYS project addressed this challenge by seeking better, healthier and more sustainable solutions for building elements such as façades, exterior curtain walls and indoor partitions.
The endeavour has led to the development of innovative biocomposite materials consisting of natural fibres bound with biopolymers that reduce emissions of pollutants and airborne particles and can be sourced naturally from forest waste and sustainable resources such as wood, flax, hemp and cork. The materials, which comply with European national technical building codes, are intended for use in new construction, as well as the retrofitting of older buildings.
Indoor air quality and emissions from building materials have posed a major challenge for scientists, industry and consumers in recent decades, says OSIRYS project coordinator Miriam García of Tecnalia, a Spanish research and technology organisation. Construction materials play a key role in improving or worsening air quality, and they have a profound effect on sound and comfort, as well as energy efficiency and providing protection in case of fire.
The materials were made using different manufacturing techniques, enabling endless design possibilities. Special attention was also paid to thermal efficiency and fire protection to improve safety and comfort inside buildings and a unique coating was developed for indoor use to eliminate microorganisms and organic compounds generated by more traditional building materials.
We created a complete façade system with better environmental performance in terms of reduced contaminants compared to traditional systems, great energy performance and novel aesthetics, García says. Other new materials include fire-proof panels and wood foam panels for interior and exterior application, profiles and exterior cladding panels.
Trials of OSIRYSs materials have been conducted at Tecnalias KUBIK energy efficiency testing building near Bilbao in Spain, and are ongoing at a seven-storey apartment block in nearby San Sebastián, as well as at a sports complex in Tartu, Estonia. The test applications will enable the projects researchers to monitor the performance of the materials over several years in different climates and usage environments.
We need some time to demonstrate the suitability of the new products in real-life conditions but we expect individual components to be commercialised within the next one to two years and complete systems, such as the multilayer façade, sometime after that, García says. The project partners are currently focusing on optimising and scaling up each manufacturing process in order to successfully bring their products to market.
Material manufacturers and construction firms have already shown an interest in the projects technology and applications, which is expected to generate new commercial opportunities while improving energy efficiency, sustainability and the comfort of building occupants.