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Four new building materials for the home

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From floor to ceiling to walls, institutes and researchers around the world use all imaginable natural resources to carry out the most environmentally friendly work possible.

Thermal insulation by fungi and silica gel

Molds and other fungi do not have a particularly holy odor in a home. And yet, they may well be one of the most environmentally friendly means of insulation in the future. The idea dates back to the early 2000s, when two young researchers from New York State produced a new insulation panel, “Greensulate”. As the name suggests, the invention is entirely made up of green materials: minerals, starch, water, and oyster mushroom spores, a family of fungi that also produce excellent edible subjects.

This strange mixture is grown for two weeks in the dark and then dried, thus obtaining compact cinder blocks. Surprisingly, the resistance of this exotic insulation blithely defies polystyrene and fiberglass. Without any additives. “Greensulate” is also non-flammable, light, modular, totally recyclable and benefits from more than reduced production costs. An American firm, Ecovative Design, is the first to currently offer many insulating derivatives for the home.

In terms of ecological insulation, the champion of the category is called “Nanogel Lumira”. Coming from the American company Cabot but produced in Germany, the originality of this insulation is to be composed of 95% air. The very structure of the insulation is made from amorphous grains of silica gel, known for their very high energy storage density. The finished product consists of a strange material that is almost transparent but seems to trap blue vapor, hence its nickname “frozen smoke”.

Its properties are quite exceptional, with unbeatable lightness, and extreme resistance to heat transfer, 39 times greater than fiberglass. The sound insulation is also remarkable (twice as effective as double glazing), as is the resistance to mold, since Lumira gel is 100% hydrophobic. A building made up of 34% of glass surfaces in Lumira gel was inaugurated in 2012 in New York, allowing natural light to pass through as much as possible while considerably reducing energy costs.

A scalable coating and tiling made from seaweed

Many materials are capable of changing physical state with temperature, typically by melting and solidification. They are referred to as “phase change material” (PCM). The German company BASF used this principle to create its “Micronal PCM” coating, composed of microscopic plastic spheres, which can be applied to walls and ceilings.

When the temperature rises, the spheres melt, absorbing the surrounding heat. Conversely when the temperature decreases, the spheres solidify and reject the trapped heat, with a significant energy gain for the home. Furthermore, despite the strong physical variations recorded by the material, it has a lifespan of at least thirty years.

Eco-friendly materials for the home are also about the floor. The German Fraunhofer Institute has developed a tile using only elements of natural origin, and remarkably aesthetic. The invention consists of kieselguhr, more commonly known as Celite. It is a rock composed of fossilized remains of brown microalgae.

Very porous and therefore light, Celite is used as a component of dynamite, and in a less dangerous way (for humans) as a natural pesticide. Blended with natural fibers and linseed oil, Celite makes it possible to obtain flexible and light tiles, and completely biodegradable, while requiring little energy for production. Another advantage: it is possible to choose the colors, patterns and shapes of the tiles in advance, and even to make them luminous by adding fluorescent pigments!

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