Final Report: UltraCell - Advanced Cellulose Insulation

EPA Contract Number: EPD14024
Title: UltraCell - Advanced Cellulose Insulation
Investigators: Thompson, Daniel H
Small Business: UltraCell Insulation, LLC
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: May 1, 2014 through April 30, 2015
Project Amount: $100,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)

Description:

The purpose of this research was to demonstrate the commercial viability of UltraCell Insulation (UltraCell), while improving the company's scientific understanding of how to produce at commercial scale. To evaluate commercial viability, UltraCell produced pilot scale volumes using full-scale production equipment at three commercial manufacturing facilities. We tested the product against regulatory requirements and provided samples to professional installers for evaluation in real-world applications. In parallel, the company performed controlled trials to evaluate the impact of various production process parameters on resulting product characteristics, with a goal of better understanding process capabilities and how best to optimize full-scale production.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The following tasks were accomplished:

  1. Determined materials, equipment, and processing arrangements with all concerned.
  2. Conducted wet process experiments and production at a paper pulping factory.
  3. Conducted dry process experiments and production at two cellulose insulation factories.
  4. Obtained factory and regulatory testing.
  5. Obtained evaluation and feedback from installers.
  6. Developed support for commercialization from strategic partners.
Although three separate factories were necessary to simulate eventual full-scale production in one integrated operation, UltraCell was able to identify and use the best combination of feedstock, equipment, and machine settings for ease of production and superior product performance.
 
This EPA Phase I effort was successful in meeting or exceeding its stated objectives:
  1. Pilot volumes of product were manufactured meeting and exceeding all regulatory requirements.
  2. Professional installers evaluated UltraCell insulation and found it superior to traditional cellulose insulation.
  3. A quantitative assessment of the impact of various process parameters was developed, providing findings that will allow UltraCell to further tune and optimize full-scale production.
  4. Exciting new product uses were discovered by a field installer who successfully used UltraCell in a spray application by merely injecting water. This discovery points to exciting new markets without fundamentally altering the physical characteristics of the product.
  5. UltraCell discovered important new information about how to proceed with designing and financing an optimal flagship production facility or facilities.
  6. A possible new source of feedstock was discovered. Potential strategic partners have offered to UltraCell low- or no-cost paper rejects that they now are paying to dispose of in landfills. More research and development is needed to finalize this approach, but this points to a real win-win solution for UltraCell, the paper company partners, and the Earth.

Conclusions:

UltraCell'’s production process is viable at commercial scale and can meaningfully penetrate commercial insulation markets, improving energy efficiency nationally.

The cellulose insulation industry is already a $400 million part of the $7.3 billion North American insulation industry. While the cellulose insulation industry has historically been growing steadily and is now growing at twice the rate (15%) of the overall insulation market, its recent growth has been constrained by the availability of recycled newsprint. Furthermore, the industry has suffered from the non-uniformity of product made using traditional processes with standard waste stream recycling methods.
 
UltraCell now can help this industry take a larger share of the $7 billion domestic insulation market by using recycled corrugated cardboard as a feedstock and improving product uniformity. UltraCell's commercial viability was proven feasible during Phase I. Installers were extremely impressed with these initial samples, and one was quoted as saying, "“My first experiences during this initial testing have been very positive, beyond anything I expected.”"
 
Commercial partners already have worked with UltraCell in the production and evaluation of pilot scale volumes. Commercialization of full-scale production employing the patented process is not only feasible, but is now eagerly awaited by several established strategic partners. 
 
Process controls can be established from the studied parameters to enable full-scale production scale-up. The company has not only proven feasibility, but also that UltraCell insulation can be produced at a lower-than-expected cost. Furthermore, the company has identified synergies with existing production facilities that may allow for even more substantial cost reductions.
 
UltraCell's cellulose insulation provides a host of benefits when compared with other leading forms of insulation. These include a more benign safety profile for both installers and homeowners and substantial reductions in carbon emissions to help reduce greenhouse gases. These benefits include:
  • Improved insulation of our nation'’s building infrastructure.
  • A reduction in the energy required to produce insulation.
  • The direct sequestration of carbon in walls and attics (in the form of cellulose insulation).
 
The multiple benefits of UltraCell'’s insulation to installers, customers, and our nation have been proven feasible as part of this Phase I testing.

Supplemental Keywords:

green manufacturing, cellulose insulation, pollutants, formaldehyde, volatile organic compound, VOC

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