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An ultra efficient, low cost, light weight, thermal insulation material to improve the energy efficiency of refrigeration equipment by 30% (ELATION)

Final Report Summary - ELATION (An Ultra Efficient, Low Cost, Light Weight, Thermal Insulation Material to improve the Energy Efficiency of Refrigeration Equipment by 30%)

The problem of energy security and energy efficiency is well recognised at the highest levels in national, European and international policy. There is a clear need for an ultra high performance insulation material that is capable of significantly reducing the energy consumption of refrigeration appliances, (including refrigeration vehicles) thereby reducing the ever increasing European Energy demand, and Europe's ever increasing reliance on imported energy. Conventional insulations materials (foams) are inexpensive and low cost, but they do not provide the ultra high levels of thermal insulation required to achieve the above energy reductions. Vacuum insulated panels (using metallic barrier layers) are the state of the art with respect to thermal insulation, yet they suffer from significant disadvantages in smaller applications due to edge leakage losses. This is even more pronounced in 3D systems such as refrigerators.

The proposed CRAFT research project, ELATION, aimed to develop an innovative ultra high performance, low cost, lightweight insulation material, with insulation properties of vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) 10 mW/mK, and a cost comparable to conventional insulation. It would overcome the problems associated with conventional VIPs by utilising a coated polymer barrier layers. Furthermore, the innovation in the manufacturing process would produce VIPs in 3D form, with integrated thermal storage and a predictive time-temperature electronic system, which would be capable of ensuring that even the lower levels of electrical energy consumed occur at off-peak times, thereby smoothing energy demand.

The scientific objectives of the work was to push forward the knowledge of the characteristics and performance of low cost, lightweight, ultra efficient thermal insulation materials, especially vacuum insulated systems, when used in 3D applications. In particular, this enhanced understanding would cover:
- increased scientific knowledge of the performance, behaviour and gas permeance of polymer materials in all polymer gas barrier layers;
- increased scientific knowledge in the manufacture of all polymer barrier layers, especially in 3D applications. Conventional knowledge related to 2D barrier layer applications. This enhanced understanding would enable the creation of a finite element model and database to validate the 3D performance of any insulation material, under any given environmental or heat transfer boundary conditions;
- increased scientific knowledge relating to the formulation of food grade eutectic cold store materials capable of being embedded into advanced thermal systems in combination with high performance VIPs;
- increased scientific knowledge relating to the factors that affect thermal performance in refrigeration equipment, especially the modelling and accurate prediction of time-temperature gradients and predictive algorithms to maximise energy trends to off peak consumption.

The technological objectives of the work was to develop an ultra high performance, low cost, lightweight, thermal insulation material, complying with the following specification:
- an insulation factor, (I value) of 10 mW/mK;
- a manufacturing cost base ratio of EUR 30/m2 or less;
- a maximum mass of 1.5 kg/m2 to be comparable with existing foam based materials;
- an all polymer barrier layer capable of achieving and holding a vacuum of < 0.1 torr and a gas permeability level of less than 15 cm3 / yr (10 ppm/yr), thereby achieving a 10 years design life.

Food safe to FDA regulations
Capable of complying with the IATA standards for drop testing (1 m onto concrete floor) when installed into the final outer casing / enclosure. The societal and policy objectives of the work were to:
- improve the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial refrigeration appliances by 30 %, thereby preventing 202 million tonnes of CO2 being released unnecessarily each year; - improve the energy efficiency of refrigerated vehicles by 30 %;
- contribute towards the advancement of the appliance energy rating policy by allowing appliances to be classified as far more energy efficient;
- smooth out the peaks in electrical energy demand, by allowing products equipped with ELATION to undertake their cooling cycles at off peak times;
- contribute to ensuring the security of Europe's future energy supply by helping to reduce demand for energy.
European social and economic cohesion and technology transfer to less technically advanced regions by the provision of a sufficiently low cost technological solution that can be implemented right across the Union regardless of economic position.
'Environment 2010 - Our future our choice', which would give a 5-10 year policy strategy, stated that CO2 emissions were forecast to grow by 40 % for the period.

The economic objectives of the work was to:
- to capture 6 % of the EUR 1.8 billion p.a. European market for domestic refrigeration and freezer thermal insulation;
- to capture 9 % of the EUR 950 million p.a. European market for commercial / industrial refrigeration and freezer thermal insulation;
- to capture 18 % of the EUR 40 million p.a. European market for advanced insulation of temperature controlled vehicle fleets;
- issue 20 licenses for the technology throughout Europe. A market worth EUR 400 million;
- issue 50 global licenses, a global market worth EUR 2.25 billion.

A number of factors are fundamental when attaining low temperatures in enclosures for extended periods. In addition to (i) the ambient temperature, (ii) the surface area of exposed panels and (iii) the overall thermal heat load (Q) of the contained products, there are two other key factors that directly affect ELATION:
- the quality of the insulation, (the value, the lower the value the better the insulation);
- the nature of the cooling medium.

The technical work over the period (1 April 2004 - 30 June 2006) was spread over the tasks mainly in work packages 1 to 7. Progress was made on reviewing state of the art of VIPs including barrier film, filler materials / methods, production procedure, and VIPs' application on refrigeration and shipping containers. Polymeric VIP housing for utilising perlite, eutectics with phase change temperature of 6 degrees Celsius and -13 degrees Celsius, and delivery box with VIPs were designed and developed. Polymeric barrier films coated in different layers were delivered. VIPs with the films as well as with polymer housing for utilising perlite were developed. Progress was also made on designing 3D vacuum structure. A number of prototypes were fabricated. A vacuum and heat-sealing chamber for testing the design were developed. The prototypes were vacuumed and sealed in the chamber. Thermal performance of the new design was compared to delivery box with conventional VIPs and foam insulation.

Project management, co-ordination, exploitation was ongoing through the life of the project. All tasks, in all work packages, were completed and good results were achieved.

Regular technical and interim meetings, to discuss technical progress were held every three months. Periodic progress and management meetings at months 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24 and 27 followed, interspersed with working party meetings.

The main achievements of the project were the following:
- It was estimated that the insulation factor, (l value) of 3D vacuum insulated body would be close to the target of 10 mW/mK.
- A manufacturing cost of 3D VIB base ratio was considered to be less than that of box made of VIPs as it would reduce the risk of failure of VIP during assembling and it could use perlite / open cell XPS as fillers which were much cheaper than fume silica.
- The mass would be 2.5 kg/m2 (thickness of 25 mm) if using open cell XPS as filler. This was probably the lightest VIPs but is still heavier than the target of a maximum mass of 1.5 kg/m2 to be comparable with existing foam based materials.
- Coated polymer barrier film was developed capable of achieving a gas permeability level of 30cm3 / yr (20 ppm/yr), thereby achieving a 5 years design life (estimated). Recommendations have been made for future improvement.
- Four types of eutectics were made for refrigerator thermal storage and energy saving.
- 12 litre eutectics were capable of holding fridge temperature for 18 hours without using compressor, for a fridge with 3D vacuum insulation.
- With subcooling for refrigerator, it was observed that up to 10 % of energy could be saved.

Initial market stimulation took place, contacting leading fridge brand owners and delivery package manufactures. In order to asses their willingness to adopt new technology and to stimulate companies to apply or use the results in their product strategy.

However, with the protection of IPR in mind, the specific details of the Elation project were not divulged to any person outside the ELATION consortium. More detailed discussions, with third parties, would take place on completion of patent applications. The protection of the patentable innovations, generated through the ELATION project, was underway and would shortly be concluded.