Light as a feather, warming like a duvet

The melamine resin foam Basotect as an energy-efficient material

image In view of the rising demands on energy efficiency and the efficient use of materials, thermal insulation and lightweight construction are becoming increasingly important. The BASF foam Basotect® offers economical, tailor-made solutions for using energy and materials in a way that conserves resources. This allows low energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions and an ecologically correct lifestyle. The areas of construction and mobility derive particular benefit from the potential of this thermally insulating and lightweight material for boosting energy efficiency: Now, Basotect is increasingly used in solar thermal energy systems, in air-conditioning technology, and in high-speed trains.

The open-celled foam based on melamine resin has a unique set of properties: Thanks to its base material, it is flame-retardant (B1 acc. to DIN 4102), abrasive and can be used at a temperature of up to 240 degrees Celsius retaining its properties across a wide temperature range. The open-celled foam structure means that it is lightweight (9 g/l), sound-absorbing, flexible even at low temperatures, and thermally insulating. Conventional foams and their area of application are defined by one principal property. By contrast, with Basotect it is the varying combination of properties that allows customers to use it as a versatile, high-quality solution in energy-efficient applications, with advantages from processing to its final use.

Effective insulation of solar energy systems

The construction sector benefits particularly from the material’s low thermal conductivity of less than 0.035 watt per meter and kelvin (W/(m*K)) and the good insulation performance resulting from this. The material’s high temperature resistance and the easy processability offer an additional advantage compared with conventional insulating foams. This combination of properties means that Basotect increases the level of efficiency of solar thermal energy systems. In such applications, the foam insulates the collectors on rooftops, the pipes which transport the heat, and the heat reservoir.

The international heating-systems manufacturer Viessmann, Germany, now uses Basotect, for example, on the side walls and the back of its flat-plate collectors so that the collectors save as much sunlight as possible. The foam shows a good insulating performance over a prolonged period of time even at high temperatures, and has a positive influence on the exchange of air in the collector in different climatic conditions. It releases hardly any volatile substances which could impede sun radiation, for example by causing fogging on the collector glass plate, and thus reducing the efficiency of the solar system. Basotect makes it easier to assemble the collectors and to insulate the pipes: It is flexible, fiber-free and can be cut to size with precise dimensions and contours.

Stable air pressure without temperature drop for air-conditioning systems

The BASF melamine resin foam is also the starting point for new energy concepts in industrial construction applications: The manufacturer of sealing and insulation systems Hanno®, Germany, now uses Basotect to reduce energy losses in computing centers. Computing rooms with network cabinets are often equipped with false floors to accommodate the cabling. Through the openings in the floors the cables are routed upward. However, the cold air which is intended to cool the servers escapes through these openings.

In order to eliminate this thermal bridge, Hanno developed the energy-saving foam closure Clima-Tect®. Thanks to a special coating, the company makes the BASF foam almost airtight. Pre-punched rectangles make it easier to pry out the cable openings so that the foam nestles perfectly against the cables. In this way, up to 99.9 percent of the air losses in the false floors can be reduced, temperature and air pressure remain stable. The costs for air conditioning are also reduced by up to 10 percent. As Basotect can be processed without any fibers, the foam cushions can be installed in ongoing operations. In contrast to other materials, with this retrofit the fire load is not increased.

Lightweight and safe high-speed trains

The combination of energy efficiency, safety and comfort is crucial for another area in which Basotect is now employed: high-speed trains. Innovative lightweight construction concepts are in great demand in trains. This is because lightweight construction results in a more efficient use of energy coupled with higher speeds. Thanks to its combination of low weight, high acoustic and thermal effectiveness as well as safe fire behavior, there are numerous applications for the melamine resin foam in trains.

It is used, for example, in backed wall and ceiling systems or in laminated interior decorations. The precisely fitting cuts are supplied in a building block system and fitted in the trains on site. The high degree of flexibility and the ease with which the material can be processed mean that complex installation can be carried out using as little time as possible. The lightweight Basotect helps to save energy in everyday operations. The weight reduction in the ceiling and walls also lowers the center of gravity of the carriage and therefore enhances the level of safety and comfort when traveling around corners.

But above all else, the BASF foam meets the strict fire-safety standards for rail cars. Basotect does not melt and drip when it comes into contact with flames, it becomes charred with slight smoke formation only and does not show any afterglow. In tests on fire behavior in accordance with national and international regulations, Basotect attains the highest classification that can be achieved for organic substances. The grade Basotect UF does in fact reach the highest safety level HL3 in line with the tightened EU Fire Safety Directive for trains, EN 45545.

Basotect in use on rail in the UK and Japan

Two examples for new high-speed trains with Basotect: the 395 fleet built by Hitachi for the Southeastern Railway in Great Britain and the new Shinkansen E5 by East Japan Railway, which will link Japan’s capital Tokyo to the north of the island Honshu. The trains of the 395 fleet run on the route High Speed 1, the first domestic high-speed railway in Great Britain connecting London with the South-East coast. The lightweight foam is used in floors, walls and in the air-conditioning ducts on the ceiling, with the aim of absorbing sound and providing thermal insulation. This reduces the operating costs of the air-conditioned train drastically.

The Japanese Shinkansen is noted for the constantly high speed at which it travels and its high level of safety. The new generation E5 running between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori will be the fastest train among the Tohoku Shinkansens. This line is expected to start operating in December 2010 with the existing Shinkansen E2. The new Shinkansen E5 is expected to start operations in March 2011. E5 will be equipped with tilt technology and is intended to travel at a speed of 320 kilometers per hour on a route with many tunnels in 2013. This is why the lightweight, flame-retardant Basotect is found in the ceiling, the floor and the corners of the walls. In various tests on thermal insulation and sound absorption, the BASF material scored considerably better than carbon fiber. This means that Basotect supports East Japan Railway’s design concept of lowering the level of noise and reducing vibrations inside the train. This increases the level of travel comfort and safety on high-speed journeys.

Presentation by Bernhard Vath, Head of New Business Development Basotect, BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany