So, what would it take to build more energy efficient homes than today? At Covestro, we believe innovative insulation materials can create a brighter future for our built environments.
When thinking about energy efficient homes of the future, most people conjure up images of shiny new structures complete with the latest eco-efficient technology. But a vast majority of the buildings that will make up our future cities already exist. A recent report from the UN found that 65% of building stock expected worldwide in 2060 has already been built, and most of these structures were not constructed with sustainability in mind. At the same time, however, climate change experts agree we should aim to have net-zero emissions by 2050.
Do the math and the answer is clear: We need to work on improving energy-efficiency in existing structures – and quickly.
Of course, it’s only possible to start saving energy when you know where and how energy is being wasted. But in the majority of old homes, upgrading insulation is the obvious place to start.
In the US, some reports conclude up to 90% of existing homes are under insulated and leak up to 30% of the energy produced.
Retrofitting an older homes and apartments with polyurethane insulation can reduce heat loss by up to 80% as well as reduce energy consumption significantly. PU insulation offers the highest performance of any conventional insulating material. Compared to traditional insulation – such as mineral wool or polystyrene – polyurethane offers much lower thermal conductivity and insulates up to two-thirds more effectively.
Additionally, while a traditional approach to insulation would lead to the walls getting thicker, PU produces much thinner walls. This means minimal space is required to retrofit insulation in existing buildings to achieve future-proof energy efficiency levels.
While upgrading insulation shows significant promise for improving our homes’ environmental performance, if we want to stand a chance against climate catastrophe, we have to go even further. At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, we have to drastically reduce CO₂ emissions, and with time running out, a scientific report issued by the United Nations has declared removing a big chunk of the carbon dioxide already loaded into the atmosphere might be necessary.
There just so happens to be a name for things that can do this sort of extraction work: negative-emissions technologies, or NETs.
Negative emissions can be thought of as a sort of time travel. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve emitted a surplus of CO₂, but NETs work to reverse the damage that has been already done.
In removing CO₂ from the atmosphere, the focus of NETs has primarily been on capturing and storing the gas. But what if greenhouse gas could be recycled – much like plastic bottles and cardboard boxes are – and turned into useful products that generate profit?
Using CO₂ to manufacture energy-saving products like insulation means these products not only reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but also prevent future emissions from buildings. It’s the ultimate environmental act, and it means our future homes will no longer drain our carbon budget but instead will work to actively reverse climate change.