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Thermulon founders explain their fire safe building insulation
After £1million investment the British developer aims to raise a further £5million in 2022 to scale up its materials and production processing innovations that scientists, engineers and architects are hailing as global game changers.
Using technology based on aerogels, mineral materials with tiny air pockets found in sandy substances including building waste, Thermulon’s ingenious formulations are being turned into a powder for plastering walls initially and then creating fire-proof panels and cladding.
Effective insulation is a key part of the UK’s journey to net zero.
Living spaces that are warmer this way also cut condensation, a cause of the dreadful damp and mould blighting today’s pre-1990s solid wall housing, a group of seven million homes that accounts for almost 25 percent of the UK’s residential stock.
It was the need to find better ways to save energy in the face of the deepening climate crisis and the role unforgivably unfit flammable cladding played in the Grenfell Tower tragedy that spurred managing director and chemist Dr Sam Cryer to set up Thermulon in 2019.
This was together with co-founders process engineering specialist Alexander Murdock and business developer Rozalie Ryclova.
Thanks to a contract with Imperial College Consultants, their lab is based in Imperial College London where the wider array of expertise on the spot, from synthetic chemistry to process engineering facilities, has helped accelerate the product’s progress.
Globally the insulation market is growing five per cent and predicted to be worth £39bn by 2025. Aerogels have offered a better way to insulate for some time, but their prohibitively cost has held back adoption. For Thermulon to take this route and succeed commercially any innovation also hinged on more efficient production, explains Cryer.
“Our aerogels are the first to beat the trade-off between fire safety, heat performance and price. There are materials that can deliver on one or two of these, but not all three,” he declares.
“Unlike most production that’s done in batches, we do this through a continuous stream, a chemical pathway we have developed which optimises scale and speed while slashing costs. Instead of a bucket we use a pipe.
“Materials can be sourced from overseas but there is a plentiful supply of building waste here if we can establish a chain. Our model is to build processing plants next to waste supply, with centres throughout the UK.
“Less of our product is needed and the process drives down costs so price-wise it is similar to conventional insulation.”
Thermulon’s first focus has been on the retro fit market, with a potential seven million homes. Working with lime industry producers it has just completed a successful pilot in Wales.
“We hope to have bags ready for sale in spring. Sprays, pumps and renders are other potential applications and the product can also be used to boost buildings with cavity wall insulation,” says Cryer who is forecasting a £150 million turnover for Thermulon by 2027.
Investment so far has come from a mix of private equity, crowdfunding and public bodies including government-backed Innovate UK, Sustainable Ventures and Sky Ocean Ventures.
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The bigger longer-term challenge is commercial production of the panels, a four-year project targeting a market with few options but where thousands of buildings urgently require re-cladding.
“Going forward we will partner with chemical engineering and equipment manufacturers. The UK’s industrial legacy means there is a lot of expertise, especially in Wales and the north east,” adds Cryer.
“Our product is of huge value and the construction sector is now recognising this.”
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