Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Building insulation


The salient feature of liquid crystal elastomers and networks is strong coupling between orientational order and mechanical strain. Orientational order can be changed by a wide variety of stimuli, including the presence of moisture. Changes in the orientation of constituents give rise to stresses and strains, which result in changes in sample shape. We have utilized this effect to build soft cellulose-based motor driven by humidity. The motor consists of a circular loop of cellulose film, which passes over two wheels. When humid air is present near one of the wheels on one side of the film, with drier air elsewhere, rotation of the wheels results. As the wheels rotate, the humid film dries. The motor runs so long as the difference in humidity is maintained. Our cellulose liquid crystal motor thus extracts mechanical work from a difference in humidity.

Concepts: Crystal, Soft matter, Orientation, Humidity, Liquid crystal, Rigid body, Evaporation, Building insulation


There has been a growing interest in thermal management materials due to the prevailing energy challenges and unfulfilled needs for thermal insulation applications. We demonstrate the exceptional thermal management capabilities of a large-scale, hierarchal alignment of cellulose nanofibrils directly fabricated from wood, hereafter referred to as nanowood. Nanowood exhibits anisotropic thermal properties with an extremely low thermal conductivity of 0.03 W/m·K in the transverse direction (perpendicular to the nanofibrils) and approximately two times higher thermal conductivity of 0.06 W/m·K in the axial direction due to the hierarchically aligned nanofibrils within the highly porous backbone. The anisotropy of the thermal conductivity enables efficient thermal dissipation along the axial direction, thereby preventing local overheating on the illuminated side while yielding improved thermal insulation along the backside that cannot be obtained with isotropic thermal insulators. The nanowood also shows a low emissivity of <5% over the solar spectrum with the ability to effectively reflect solar thermal energy. Moreover, the nanowood is lightweight yet strong, owing to the effective bonding between the aligned cellulose nanofibrils with a high compressive strength of 13 MPa in the axial direction and 20 MPa in the transverse direction at 75% strain, which exceeds other thermal insulation materials, such as silica and polymer aerogels, Styrofoam, and wool. The excellent thermal management, abundance, biodegradability, high mechanical strength, low mass density, and manufacturing scalability of the nanowood make this material highly attractive for practical thermal insulation applications.

Concepts: Carbon, Heat, Materials science, Compressive strength, Heat transfer, Thermal insulation, Building insulation, Insulator


High-performance thermally insulating materials from renewable resources are needed to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. Traditional fossil-fuel-derived insulation materials such as expanded polystyrene and polyurethane have thermal conductivities that are too high for retrofitting or for building new, surface-efficient passive houses. Tailored materials such as aerogels and vacuum insulating panels are fragile and susceptible to perforation. Here, we show that freeze-casting suspensions of cellulose nanofibres, graphene oxide and sepiolite nanorods produces super-insulating, fire-retardant and strong anisotropic foams that perform better than traditional polymer-based insulating materials. The foams are ultralight, show excellent combustion resistance and exhibit a thermal conductivity of 15 mW m(-1) K(-1), which is about half that of expanded polystyrene. At 30 °C and 85% relative humidity, the foams retained more than half of their initial strength. Our results show that nanoscale engineering is a promising strategy for producing foams with excellent properties using cellulose and other renewable nanosized fibrous materials.

Concepts: Nanotechnology, Polystyrene, Relative humidity, Thermal conductivity, Insulation, Alternative energy, Building insulation materials, Building insulation


New bio-materials have recently gained interest for use in insulation panels in walls, but wider adoption by the building industry is hindered by their intrinsic properties. The fact that such materials are mainly composed of cellulose makes them combustible, and their hydrophilic surface presents a high water uptake, which would lead to faster biodegradation. A hydrophobic treatment with silica particles was successfully synthesised via Stöber process, characterised, and deposited on hemp shiv. The surface of hemp shiv coated several times with 45 and 120 nm particles were uniformly covered, as well as extensively water repellent. Those samples could withstand in humidity chamber without loss of their hydrophobic property and no sign of mould growth after 72 h of exposure.

Concepts: Humidity, Property, Building insulation


While there are no regulatory fire safety obligations for polystyrene (PS) when used as packaging material, concerns exist that such packaging material may contain the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) as a result of uncontrolled recycling activities. To evaluate these concerns, we collected 50 samples of PS packaging materials from the UK and 20 from Ireland. HBCDD was detected in 63 (90%) of samples, with concentrations in 4 samples from Ireland exceeding the EU’s low POP concentration limit (LPCL) of 0.1% above which articles may not be recycled. Moreover, 2 further samples contained HBCDD >0.01%. While our samples were obtained in the 12 month period prior to the March 2016 introduction of the EU’s 0.01% concentration limit above which articles may not be placed on the market, our data suggest that continued monitoring is required to assess compliance with this limit value. Ratios of α vs. γ-HBCDD in our EPS packaging samples (average = 0.63) exceeded significantly (p = 0.025) those in EPS building insulation material samples (average = 0.24) reported previously for Ireland. This shift towards α-HBCDD in packaging EPS is consistent with the additional thermal processing experienced by recycled PS and suggests the source of HBCDD in PS packaging is recycled PS insulation foam. This is of concern owing to the higher bioavailability and lower metabolic clearance of α-HBCDD compared to the β- and γ-isomers.

Concepts: Polystyrene, Hexabromocyclododecane, Building insulation materials, Building insulation


Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is a highly effective thermal insulation material that has seen considerable market growth in the past decade. Organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) are added to SPF formulations to meet fire code requirements. A common flame retardant used in SPF formulations is tris 1-chloro 2-propyl phosphate (TCIPP), a suspected endocrine disruptor. Exposure monitoring efforts during SPF applications have focused primarily on the isocyanate component, a potent respiratory and dermal sensitizer. However, to our knowledge, there is no monitoring data for TCIPP.

Concepts: Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Polyurethane, Asbestos, Flame retardants, Building insulation materials, Thermal insulation, Building insulation


Cellulose nanofibril (CNF) aerogel is highly flammable and its mechanical strength is very soft, which is unfavourable due to safety concerns and impractical when used as the thermal insulation material. In this work, we used N-methylol dimethylphosphonopropionamide (MDPA) and 1,2,3,4-butanetetracarboxylic acid (BTCA) as co-additives and then prepared lightweight flame resistant CNF sponge-like aerogels via an eco-friendly freeze-drying and post cross-linking method. The CNF/BTCA/MDPA aerogel exhibited a better flame retardant performance, outstanding self-extinguishing behaviour and significantly increased char residue (by as much as 268%) compared with the neat CNF aerogel. Meanwhile, the resilience of the aerogel samples improved significantly as the flexibility decreased slightly. Furthermore, the aerogel samples still exhibited excellent thermal insulating properties with thermal conductivity as low as 0.03258W/(m k). The combination of these characteristics makes the CNF-based aerogel a promising insulation candidate for thermal protective equipment (e.g., fire-protection clothing or advanced spacesuit elements) in the future.

Concepts: Heat, Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Heat transfer, Aerogel, Thermal insulation, Building insulation, R-value


Lightweight, biodegradable, thermal insulation and electrically conductive materials play a vital role in achieving the sustainable development of our society. The fabrication of such multifunctional materials is currently very challenging. Here, we report a general, facile and eco-friendly way for the large-scale fabrication of ultra-low threshold and biodegradable porous PLA/MWCNT for high-performance thermal insulation and EMI shielding applications. Thanks to the unique structure with microporous PLA matrix embedded by conductive 3D MWCNT networks, the lightweight porous PLA/MWCNT with a density of 0.045 g/cm3 possess a percolation threshold of 0.00094 vol%, which, to our knowledge, is the minimum value reported so far. Furthermore, the material exhibits excellent thermal insulation performance with a thermal conductivity of 27.5 mW·m-1·K-1, which is much lower than the best value of common thermal insulation materials. Moreover, it also shows outstanding EMI shielding performance characterized by the high SE values and the absorption-dominated shielding feature. More importantly, its specific EMI SE is as high as 1010 dB·cm3·g-1, which is superior to other shielding materials reported so far. Thus, this novel multifunctional material and its general fabrication methodology provide a promising way to meet the growing demand for high-performance multifunctional materials in sustainable development.

Concepts: Electrical conductor, Heat, Electrical conductivity, Heat transfer, Aerogel, Electromagnetic interference, Thermal insulation, Building insulation


At many work stations under cold environment, protective clothing, which is provided for the workers is characterized by an inadequate thermal insulation, which results in an adverse impact of cold environment on a worker’s body. The purpose of this paper is to present a developed new ergonomic modular cold protective clothing, which allows for easy adaptation of the thermal insulation of clothing to worker’s individual needs. This clothing was compared in a laboratory study with the clothing having been used so far by workers of cold environment using physiological and physical measurements, subjective ratings of thermal state as well a questionnaire of subjective assessment of used clothing. These measurements and ratings confirmed that the modular cold protective clothing is more effective in the process of ensuring thermal comfort to the wearer during work in a cold environment than the clothing having been used so far.

Concepts: Effectiveness, Temperature, Heat, Personal protective equipment, Protection, Heat transfer, Laborer, Building insulation


The data in this article are the simulation results of 1248 cases that were carried out to detect anti-insulation behaviour in the article titled “Anti-insulation mitigation by altering the envelope layers' configuration” (Idris and Mae, 2017) [1]. These cases are generated by a matrix of 13 climates, 6 envelope layer configurations, 4 occupancy profiles and 4 levels of insulation thickness. The data are concerned with the annual cooling and heating loads of these cases. In addition, the data include the Point of Thermal Inflexion (PTI) values and their anti-insulation pattern, when PTI is found. The PTI values are compiled in a single summary file and supplied as well. All These data are shared via this article where they can be reused in different ways, but mainly for serving researchers that intend to approach anti-insulation behaviour from different points of view.

Concepts: Heat, Layer, Point, OSI model, Grammatical number, The Point, Configuration management, Building insulation