Paper Poised to Fill New Gaps as Insulation: Mirrorpanel May Mitigate Foam Flaws

Buildings account for 40% of energy usage in the United States. In a world that stresses increased levels of responsible energy use, ensuring that new and existing construction is as efficient as possible will be vital to meeting our nation’s sustainability goals. Wood has long been the material of choice for framing, walls, and floors, but designers often fall back on conventional foam insulation to keep the heat in and the elements out. New research however, published in Forest Products Journal, introduces an insulation system that may help give forest products the green light to fill in new gaps.

A cutaway of a Mirrorpanel revealing its layered construction.

The article, co-written by FPL Supervisory Materials Research Engineer Samuel Zelinka, and FPL Research Physical Scientist Samuel Glass, proposes a new type of insulation called Mirrorpanel. Mirrorpanel takes advantage of the low thermal conductivity of still air, and is made of closely spaced layers of coated paper in a wood or fiberboard frame. It has been fabricated and tested at the laboratory, wall, and building scale and was found to perform as well as its foam counterpart — so well that it would even meet the stringent 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for continuous insulation.

Adding to Mirrorpanel’s appeal is its comparatively small environmental footprint. Conventional foam insulation is made using fossil fuels, and can have up to 24 times the environmental impact of natural insulation materials like cellulose or cork. A paper-based insulation like Mirrorpanel would mitigate this energy usage, and could even be made from recycled materials or low-value woody biomass clogging our nation’s forests and increasing fire danger.

The test house constructed using Mirrorpanels.

Paper-based insulation is not a new development in the forest products industry. FPL’s own Research Demonstration House, constructed in 2001, is insulated with a blown-in cellulose product made of recycled newspapers. It is the layered construction, IECC compliance and thermal efficiency, and scalability of the panels which puts Mirrorpanel ahead of the pack.

Although Mirrorpanel has been tested in house-sized structures, researchers caution that further development is needed for it to become a viable insulation system. More testing needs to be done, especially in regards to its moisture-storage characteristics, and economic feasibility. With the rise of environmentally friendly commercial construction, Mirrorpanel should also be tested at even larger scales to ensure it meets the requirements of large energy-efficient commercial buildings.

It may not be ready for prime time yet, but ideas like Mirrorpanel represent a step in the right direction for insulation systems, and embody what research at FPL is all about — the latest scientific research, promoting the health and sustainability of our nation’s most valuable resources, for the betterment of the American people.

For more information, please see Thermal Insulation System Made of Wood and Paper for Use in Residential Construction

A Winning Paper…on Paper

A journal article authored by Forest Products Laboratory researchers David Vahey (retired) and John Considine has been selected as the TAPPI Journal Best Research Paper for 2013.

David Vahey, FPL research materials engineer (retired)

David Vahey, FPL research materials engineer (retired)

Vahey and Considine, both materials research engineers, wrote “Influence of forming conditions on fiber tilt” with partner Michael MacGregor who is retired from MacGregor Paper Consulting. The research was assessed based on innovation, creativity, scientific merit, and clear and concise presentation of ideas.

John Considine, FPL research material engineer

John Considine, FPL research material engineer

“This paper is an example of high-quality, fundamental research that significantly improves the industry’s understanding of basic sheet properties and sheet structure and the model developed could also potentially be used to aid in troubleshooting paper performance,” said TAPPI Journal Editorial Board member Terry Bliss. The paper reported “highly valuable and innovative research work that expanded on earlier research by developing a simple model for fiber tilt.” In addition, Bliss said, results were written in a “clear, logical, and easy-to-follow manner. It’s a very thorough and well written research paper.”

The paper and its authors will be honored at the PaperCon 2014 Conference Awards Dinner on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

TAPPI is the leading association for the worldwide pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and converting industries and publisher of Paper360°, Tissue360° and TAPPI Journal.

Hydrogen peroxide and caustic soda: Dancing with a dragon at the pulp mill

When hydrogen peroxide is mixed with caustic soda as part of the pulping or paper-making process, potentially dangerous amounts of heat and oxygen can develop. As a result, catastrophic events have occurred at several mills in Europe and North America in recent decades. Enter the dragon.

Peter Hart, manager of new technology at MWV Corp., in Atlanta, GA, worked with FPL research chemical engineer Carl Houtman and analytical chemist Kolby Hirth to develop safety considerations for installing new or retrofit bleaching systems that include dilution of hydrogen peroxide from a common 50% concentration to a safer level. Peroxide at 10% concentration cannot generate the explosive mixture with sodium hydroxide. As a means of comparison, peroxide solutions typically found in a home medicine cabinet are closer to 3% concentration.

Trucks or railcars often deliver hydrogen peroxide to pulp mills, where it is routinely stored at a 50% concentration. By diluting peroxide, safer bleaching systems can be maintained. Peroxide is commonly used as part of a bleaching sequence in kraft mills to brighten and to provide brightness stabilization.

FPL Assistant Director Honored with Hall of Fame Induction

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) Assistant Director Ted Wegner has been selected for induction into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame for his contributions and leadership impacts in research and technology development.

FPL Assistant Director Ted Wegner

FPL Assistant Director Ted Wegner

Wegner’s 36-year career with FPL has focused on a wide range of efforts, including bioenergy, recycling, forest biorefinery, and nanotechnology. He attributes this honor to the support he’s had along the way, both within the Forest Service and the paper industry as a whole.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as an inductee into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame and to be among those considered as having made noteworthy contributions,” says Wegner. “This is only possible because of the many dedicated and competent men and women within our broad paper industry community I have had the privilege to work with.  I thank the USDA Forest Service for giving me the freedom to focus my efforts on forward-looking scientific and technology developments, and I thank the industry for embracing new ideas.”

Wegner has served as Assistant Director at FPL for 24 years, during which he worked tirelessly to promote the image of the forest products industry as a critical contributor and major partner in improving the health and well-being of America’s forests.  He provided leadership in tackling important problems and opportunities facing the pulp and paper industry and creatively showed how solving such problems is of critical importance to the Forest Service in sustainably managing healthy and diverse forests.

“Ted Wegner has been a visionary leader in the world of pulp and paper research and beyond,” says FPL Acting Director Michael Rains. “Ted is truly a benchmark for public service, his contributions impacting countless lives and setting a shining example for the Forest Service family. His induction into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame is a well-deserved testament to his extraordinary dedication.”

The Paper Industry International Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization that recognizes people who have made preeminent contributions to the paper industry worldwide. The induction ceremony will be held Oct. 3, 2013 in Appleton, Wis.