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Sustainable construction with chemistry and plastics

Almost 40% of fossil fuels are used for heating buildings. That is why the process of ‘sustainable construction and living’ must prioritise saving energy and thorough, energy-related renovations. Plastic insulation is ideal for limiting energy consumption and, in turn, CO2 emissions. For every ton of CO2 that is emitted during the production of plastic insulation material, 233 tons are saved over the life cycle of the products. In order to build in a sustainable manner, it is vital to analyse the sustainability of the building project in its entirety rather than focussing on evaluating the properties of each individual material.

The initiatives below illustrate how innovative plastics and sustainable construction go hand in hand.

Sector initiatives

Nearly Zero Energy : Isofinish® is right on the mark.


In 2013 the Flemish Energy Agency (VEA) launched the ‘Ik BEN mee’ sign. The aim of this campaign is to prepare people in Flanders for the Nearly Zero Energy (in Dutch: Bijna-EnergieNeutraal) principles that will apply to all new construction projects from 2021 onwards. The ‘Ik BEN mee’ sign is an initiative of the Flemish Government intended to recognise the efforts of consumers who are already making sensible energy choices today. To receive such a sign, first you need to submit an energy-friendly project or concept, which will then be thoroughly screened by the Flemish authorities.

Isofinish® was one of the first award-winning initiatives to receive the ‘ik BEN mee’ recognition from VEA. It is an initiative of six manufacturers of building materials. Together they have developed a complete innovative concept for outside wall insulation and finishing. With their idea they have managed to make the outside walls of houses much more energy-efficient. Thanks to this new exterior wall concept not only the energy cost drops, the aesthetic value of the building increases as well. What is special about the Isofinish® concept is that it provides a continuous insulating shield. As this shield is not interrupted, energy leaks are prevented. Moreover, it is a concept that can be applied in both new construction and renovation projects.

A project such as Isofinish® offers the advantage that the principles of building and renovating in an Nearly Zero Energy way are made visible to possible builders and renovators, which at the same time renders the objectives of the Flemish Energy Agency tangible.


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GreenWal: The centre of excellence for sustainable construction

Greenwal, the Walloon centre of excellence, brings together all the players in the field of sustainable construction. The purpose of this centre? To stimulate the renovation and construction industry and to build bridges between education, research and innovation taking place in this area.

Greenwal was started in 2013. In 2016, their headquarters will be officially moved to a totally new facility, the cornerstone of which was laid in May 2015. This facility consists of 4,000m² of office space, workshops, conference and demonstration rooms.

Greenwal is an initiative of the Work-Environment Alliance of the Walloon Region. Its objective is to create economic opportunities and employment by focusing on improving the environment.

The Work-Environment Alliance strives to ensure that the construction and renovation industry becomes a sustainable industry. This is possible thanks to insulation and improved energy efficiency of buildings.

As a signatory of the Alliance and major economic player in terms of innovation and production of efficient building materials, essenscia wallonie has participated in the realization of the Alliance programme and the establishment of the Greenwal centre of excellence.

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Sustainable building: Kingspan innovation

Aside from the initial costs of a building project, during a construction process considerable attention is paid to a building’s energy consumption, CO2 emissions and life-cycle management. Kingspan has developed various simple yet innovative systems for reducing the effect on the environment, while at the same time lowering costs.

The Kingspan Sol-Air Integrated Collector is not only a fully-fledged insulation panel, but it also acts as a solar energy collector for heating the building. The façade panel, which is ideally provided with a dark coating, easily captures the solar energy through the outer plating, with the air in the panel’s open crowns thus heating up. The heating will cause the air in the crowns to rise, whereby fresh air enters the system from below. The warm air is fed into the building at the top of the façade panel. Inside the building, the heated air is spread further by light, energy-saving ventilators for optimal heat distribution. Temperature sensors in the system ensure that the ventilators are only activated when this is necessary for keeping the building at the desired temperature.

Large-scale tests of this simple yet extremely effective system reveal that heating costs can in fact be reduced by 20%, even in moderate climates. In certain cases, alongside this energy saving it will also be possible to install a lighter conventional heating system, thus costs can also be saved in this respect. These savings, together with the product’s long lifespan and the low purchase costs compared with conventional sustainable energy solutions, mean this investment soon pays for itself.

The reduction of energy consumption means the building’s CO2 emissions are decreased considerably, and the air quality inside the building is furthermore improved by the influx of fresh, heated outside air.

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Sustainable plastics in Ghelamco Arena

Duurzaam bouwen Renolit_NL

The Ghelamco football stadium in Ghent (Belgium) is a real eye-catcher: impressive, fashionable in design and an architectural beauty. The stadium, however, is more than just design, it is above all environmentally friendly.

The undulating roof was made waterproof by means of the ecological, reflective RENOLIT ALKORBRIGHT membrane. The special protective coating on this roofing membrane ensures a high reflection of the sunlight, which in summertime has a positive impact on the interior of the building. On this large project no less than 13,000 sqm of roofing membrane were installed. At a later stage, solar panels will be mounted on the roof, again a special energy saving effort.

Quite important as well ecologically speaking is the collection and re-use of rainwater for this stadium. Therefore, three large buffer reservoirs and two water storage tanks were installed. And also here RENOLIT played an important part. About 5,200 sqm of RENOLIT ALKORPLAN membrane were used to make the basins waterproof.

(Image: night capture of the Ghelamco football stadium-Picture copyright KAA Gent)

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Former industrial site transforms into sustainable city district

duurzaam bouwen Recticel BREEAM-01

The Vaartkom site in Leuven (an old industrial site bordering the canal) has been transformed into a vibrant new neighbourhood. After the construction of flats with a view on the water, the building of a cultural centre and a hub for creative companies, there is now the new residential neighbourhood ‘Tweewaters’. The whole area covers around eleven hectares and is being transformed into an ecological neighbourhood by project developer Ertzberg. In the past, Ertzberg already attracted big names with its striking designs, such as Xaveer De Geyter and Stéphane Beel. The project of Stéphane Beel, Balk van Beel, which is in full swing, was awarded the BREEAM certificate ‘outstanding’ at the end of 2012.

Recticel Insulation entered the project, thus contributing to this unique undertaking. The BREEAM certification means that the project complies with a number of criteria. These criteria can be divided into nine categories, the main ones being energy, use of resources, waste management and health. The score ‘outstanding’ is rarely awarded. What is more: this is the first time it has been awarded to a building on the European continent. Therefore, it was a real honour for Ertzberg to receive this BREEAM International Award in London at the beginning of 2013.

duurzaam bouwen Recticel BREEAM-02

For this project Ertzberg teamed up with reliable partners that not only deliver high-quality products but also attach great importance to sustainability and environment conservation. Recticel Insulation was invoked for the roof insulation. The West Flemish company covered the flat roofs of the Balk with Powerdeck F., an insulation slab with a core of ‘TAUfoam by Recticel’. This is a hard PIR foam with a special cell structure. It is covered on both sides with a mineral-coated glass tissue. Thanks to their excellent insulation capacity ‘TAUfoam by Recticel’ products need only a small thickness to offer thermal resistance. Hence, their high-performance insulation package contributed to the high score in the BREEAM category ‘energy and CO2 emissions’.

Special attention was paid to waste management on the site as well. During the works, different waste streams were kept separate and removed separately to give them a new use. To this end, Recticel – together with waste processing company Van Gansewinkel – worked out a solution. The contractor, Willemen, made sure the waste on the site was collected separately in containers. After that, these were collected by Van Gansewinkel and taken to a processing plant. There, the clippings from the insulation slabs were ground to granules so that they could serve as a source of energy for a steam plant, where they were converted into electricity.

View by night and by day of the Balk van Beel with the silos in the background, the way it will look after the renovations.
Recticel Insulation insulated the flat roofs of the Balk van Beel building with Powerdeck F insulation.

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An innovative cooperation agreement on sustainable building

The renovation project RenoseeC came into being within Buildchem, a cooperative partnership between the federations Federplast.be (the Belgian federation of producers of plastic and rubber products), Vlaamse Confederatie Bouw (the Flemish professional federation of building contractors) and essenscia (the federation of the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry). In this way Buildchem brings all actors of the construction industry together. The starting point of these three federations is the need for innovative cooperation throughout the entire value chain of ‘construction’.

The RenoseeC project, as a ‘Flemish pilot project for building renovation’, receives public funding from the IWT, the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology. The aim of the project is to roll out a business model for collective, sustainable and affordable renovation of private single-family homes. Cooperation and innovation throughout the entire construction chain are central. That is why the project involves a wide range of actors: manufacturers (Cantillana, Derbigum, FTB Remmers, ISOVER, Sto, SVK, Recticel Insulation), contractors (Alpas, Beneens, Durabrik), their federation (Vlaamse Confederatie Bouw), architects (BAST) and social profit organisations (Domus Mundi vzw) and researchers (KU Leuven, VITO).

RenoseeC focuses on the terraced house type in the 19th-century belt of Ghent, in particular on Sint-Amandsberg. The target audience is a mix of homebuyers without financial means, owners/inhabitants and owners/landlords who own a home that does not comply with the current requirements for living comfort and energy performance. Bearing in mind the social focus of RenoseeC a lot of attention is paid to intensive process guidance. Unburdening, awareness raising and activation adapted to the neighbourhood are important themes. Moreover, the project fits into Ghent City Council’s objective to become a climate-neutral city by 2050. The renovation of the 19th-century belt is a priority within this project. In this neighbourhood quality housing is a major challenge.


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