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Will Bio-Sourced Materials Change the Way We Insulate Buildings?


While they’ve been around for many years, some bio-sourced insulation materials have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to their impressive properties – as well as their sustainability. Ecologically conscious architects and construction firms are increasingly choosing bio-based materials over conventional alternatives, both for individual homes and commercial premises. These materials may include wood wool, wood fiber, wood foam, hemp and cork.

The Advantages of Using Bio-based Insulation Materials

These products have all been promoted as “low-embodied” energy insulation materials – that is, it requires less energy to create them, as compared with more traditional varieties (glass wool, rock wool, PU-based insulation materials, etc.).

Bio-sourced materials present several advantages:

  • Their environmental footprint is limited
  • They come primarily from renewable resources
  • They can be recycled

Some may be more commercially viable than others:

  • Wood foam insulation materials promoted by the German Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research seem to have great potential to scale up across Europe. A variety of woods can be used, along with waste from other industrial facilities like sawmills. Wood foam is also lightweight and adaptable for a range of construction settings.
  • Hemp has the potential to rapidly scale upwards. It grows quickly, and is naturally resistant to bugs and bacteria, which means it can be cultivated without fertilizers. Hemp is durable and rot-proof, which help make it not only profitable, but ecologically sound.

France is the European Union’s largest hemp producer. Triballat, a French industrial company, recently built its IT offices from a wooden structure, using hemp insulation.

The use of bio-based insulation materials is growing, even though their market share remains relatively low. It’s used mostly by building owners who wish to make a sensible ecological choice, or an interesting one. For instance, wood fiber is often used in the production of suspended ceilings in Scandinavian countries. These materials also tend to be lightweight, easy to install and durable.

What the Future Holds for Bio-based Insulation Materials

The increasing use of bio-based insulation materials is attributed to four main factors:

  • Thermal performance
  • Fire resistance
  • Contractor training
  • Cost of materials

The acoustic rating of the new bio-sourced insulation surpasses most other materials, but not much – if anything – is currently gained in the areas of thermal performance and fire resistance. To convince contractors to give the new materials a chance, it’s essential to focus on the ease of installation and other benefits, through communication and training.

Regulations vary from country to country, and must be understood and followed. In 2014, a group of U.S. architects, public health advocates and scientists asked the International Code Council (ICC) for an exception to the International Green Construction Code. They wanted to use bio-based insulation materials – without added flame retardants – in areas where fire risks are very low. However, a demand like this can be extremely complicated in this very regulated market. 

Finally, the cost of sustainable materials needs to be more in line with competing traditional products. This adjustment depends partly on government support for sustainable forestry or hemp cultivation, but also on the expansion of the supply base, which remains limited today. If those challenges are met, Europe’s bio-sourced insulation industry just might increase its share of the market.

Using exclusive research and an expansive network of industry professionals, Ducker Worldwide offers market intelligence and consulting services that will help you navigate the emerging industry of sustainable insulation materials. To connect with a Ducker team member and gain important insights into this segment, please contact us:

North America – or +1.248.644.0086

Europe – or +33 1 46 99 59 60


Ducker Worldwide, a premier consulting and research firm, is driven to help its clients achieve their most ambitious growth goals. Custom market intelligence, strategic consulting and transaction advisory services are delivered by fully engaged Ducker principals and a diverse team of global talent. With decades of experience across a wide range of global industries, Ducker leverages strategic data and analytics to accelerate and drive certainty to strategic growth decisions. Ducker Worldwide has extensive experience in industrial B2B markets throughout the automotive & transportation, construction, chemical, energy, healthcare, industrial, and material industries. Ducker is headquartered in Troy, Mich., with offices around the world, including Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Bangalore and London. Founded by William H. Ducker in 1961, Ducker celebrates more than 57 years in business.


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