19-Oct-2020 - Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

Programmable insulation materials

Innovative insulating materials made of shape memory polymers are developed and tested by the Fraunhofer Institutes for Applied Polymer Research IAP, for Chemical Technology ICT and for Building Physics IBP within the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Programmable Materials CPM. The high-tech foams are to be used as functional materials, for example in the field of construction.

The air conditioning of enclosed work, recreational and living spaces is of great social importance in industrialized countries. On average, people spend more than 80 percent of their time in these areas. If the room is poorly isolated, it can become very warm or very cold, depending on the season or even over the day.

Today, insulation materials represent an important technological solution to this problem. They make thermal insulation efficient and keep the cooling load or heating energy requirement and thus also the costs low. Since less climate-damaging carbon dioxide is emitted, they also protect the environment. Insulation makes both ecological and economic sense, because insulating materials save significantly more energy than is used in their manufacture. An additional improvement in the energy balance is possible through the use of bio-based raw materials, but also through insulating materials with programmable property profiles.

Programmable materials react autonomously

Programmable materials are shape- and function-dynamic materials, material composites or surfaces whose internal structure is such that the material properties and behavior can change reversibly following a program. This is achieved by permanently programming a material's response to a signal such as a change in temperature into the material structure. The response behavior can then be externally triggered so that programmable materials automatically adapt to changing conditions in a predetermined way.

Foams made of shape memory polymer, e.g. polyester urethane urea, can also exhibit such actuator functionality. The dimensions of flow channels adjacent to or within the foams can be changed due to the switching capability. Accordingly, warm or cold air flows through the foam or the flow channels in a correspondingly good or bad way. At which temperature and in which direction the reversible shape change occurs can be determined in advance by the system design and by a thermomechanical treatment.

Foams made of shape memory polymer change their shape depending on the temperature

Researchers at the three Fraunhofer Institutes IAP, ICT and IBP are developing insulating materials with programmable material behavior based on such shape memory polymer foams. "We are developing autonomous insulation systems with switchable air permeability. Depending on the temperature, the insulating material changes its shape, e.g. the diameter of the flow channels and thus, also the heat transfer. At low temperatures, for example, the flow channels are closed and have an insulating effect. When heated, the channels open up and air can flow better through them. This is particularly interesting for applications in which outside temperatures change significantly. In our project, we have developed demonstrators for actuator elements for rear ventilation of the outer facade of a single-family house. This is a thermally switchable gap between the outer layer and the supporting structure of the building," explains Dr. Thorsten Pretsch, who heads the shape memory polymers working group at the Fraunhofer IAP.

Insulating materials for industrial applications

At Fraunhofer IAP, the programmable high-tech foams are synthesized and the technologies for programming the property profiles are developed. The temperatures at which the shape changes later occur, are already defined in the synthesis. For the optimal formulation of the foams, on the one hand the monomers are selected and the reaction conditions are adjusted, and on the other hand suitable additives or fillers are added, for example to influence the foam structure. The use of bio-based raw materials is also considered.

In order to be able to produce large quantities of insulating material for industrial applications, the Fraunhofer ICT is developing processes for scaling up polymer synthesis. In addition, the samples are subjected to non-destructive testing using micro computed tomography.

At the Fraunhofer IBP the heat transfer is evaluated in application-oriented tests. The mechanical properties are characterized and simulations for concrete applications are performed. "Our simulations of a ventilated facade of an apartment building in Madrid show that with the switchable insulation materials the operative room temperature could be reduced by 2.5 °C in the summer months or up to 46 percent of the energy for cooling could be saved", explains Prof. Dr. Martin Krus from Fraunhofer IBP.

The project to develop programmable insulating materials was launched on January 1, 2018, when the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Programmable Materials was born, and has been running ever since. The researchers are also looking for new applications for the unique functionalities of shape memory polymer foams.

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • insulation materials
  • shape memory polymers
  • foams
  • functional materials
More about Fraunhofer-Institut IAP
  • News

    4D printing: heat shrinks printed objects

    Printed polymers that change shape once in a predefined way when heated? This is now possible thanks to a 4D printing technology developed in the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Programmable Materials CPM. The extent of the change in shape of the printed objects is drastic: they can shrink ... more

    New catalysts for fuel cells

    Fuel cells are typically applied to generate electrical energy from hydrogen or methanol. Nanoscale catalysts get the process going - but until now, the quality of these materials has varied significantly. The CAN research division of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IA ... more

    Original or fake?

    Counterfeit-proof product protection and resilient supply chains are the goals of the Fraunhofer SmartID project. The Fraunhofer Institutes for Applied Polymer Research IAP, for Secure Information Technology SIT and for Open Communication Systems FOKUS are developing a novel marking system ... more

More about Fraunhofer-Institut ICT
More about Fraunhofer-Institut IBP
  • News

    Polypropylene recycling from carpet waste

    A significant part of carpet waste consists of petroleum-based polypropylene. As a non-recyclable product, disposing of it has previously meant incineration or landfill. However, a new solvent is now making it possible to recover virgin-standard polypropylene from carpet waste — with no per ... more

More about Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
  • News

    From a greenhouse gas to an industrial raw material

    Rather than being released into the atmosphere and exacerbating the problem of climate change, CO2 can also be used as a raw material for substances required in industrial processes, such as formic acid or methanol. The conversion of CO2 has already been investigated in detail in laboratory ... more

    The bat is the godfather of digital transformation

    Digital simulations instead of trial and error: In the PaintVisco project, researchers at the IPA are modeling the development and processing of paints. The data for this is provided by a newly designed rheometer, which for the first time can be used to precisely measure the viscoelastic pr ... more

    Powered-up plastics

    Until now, it has not been possible to additively manufacture sensors and other electronic devices in a single operation. However, a research team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA has now succeeded in doing just that. The key to this achievement ... more

  • Research Institutes

    Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.

    Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization. Our research efforts are geared entirely to people’s needs: health, security, communication, energy and the environment. As a result, the work undertaken by our researchers and developers has a significant impact on ... more