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Reduction of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of SOPRA-XPS

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January 1, 2021 was marked by the entry into force of new regulations from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), specifically an amendment to the Ozone-Depleting Substances and Halocarbon Alternatives Regulations.

As part of the legacy of the well-known Montréal Protocol of 1987 on the protection of the ozone layer adopted by the 197 signatory countries, including Canada [1], these regulations cover and limit the use of halocarbons with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of more than 150 [2]. Like for many other products manufactured or imported in Canada, these regulations are intended in particular for manufacturers of plastic-foam insulating materials using the ingredients covered because of their GWP.

SOPREMA Canada made major changes to its SOPRA-XPS line of extruded polystyrene insulation in order to exceed these new requirements. These changes allowed the company to considerably reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the manufacturing process (Scope 1) and the product (Scope 3).

Read this article to learn more about reducing the GWP and GHG emissions with the SOPRA-XPS line of insulation products, a new generation of products that combine performance and environmental safety.

Definition of the Main Concepts

When talking about the carbon impact of an activity, a product or a service, several terms and concepts are used on a regular basis. Here are some explanations regarding Global Warming Potential (GWP) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

GWP generally applies to the ingredients or substances used in a product. This index helps to compare the global warming impact of different gases such as those used as blowing agents in insulating foam. The GWP of a gas measures the impact that one tonne of its emissions will have on climate change over a 100-year period compared to the emissions from one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). In other words, the higher the GWP, the greater the gas contributes to global warming. [3]

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions refer to the main gases contributing to global warming due to their increased concentration in the atmosphere. These include water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and ozone. There are also a number of completely human-produced GHGs in the atmosphere, such as halocarbons and other substances containing chlorine and bromine. To simplify the quantification of GHG emissions and the reporting of results, the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq.) is the reference unit used. This corresponds to the sum of the emissions of all the GHGs under the same unit. [3]

Changes to the SOPRA-XPS Line

To fully explain the changes made to the SOPRA-XPS line, two distinct categories are shown, namely the previous generation (orange panels) and the new generation (grey panels). The differences between these two generations are explained below:

 

*Before January 1, 2021, all manufacturers of extruded polystyrene insulation primarily used blowing agents with a GWP greater than 1,000.

Reducing the Global Warming Potential (GWP)

With respect to GWP, the new SOPRA-XPS formulation mainly replaces the HFC-134a blowing agent (GWP of 1,300), with an HFO blowing agent (GWP of 1). In terms of impact on the GWP of the product, this is a reduction of at least 99.92% compared to the previous formula.

As illustrated below, the new SOPRA-XPS generation has a GWP that is 99.33% lower than a GWP of 150, which is the maximum threshold allowed by Canadian regulations as of January 1, 2021. Despite these new regulations, three other manufacturers of extruded polystyrene insulation panels have obtained an exemption from ECCC allowing them to use, effective January 1, 2021, blowing agents with GWP limited to 550 or 750, as the case may be. The permit duration varies between one and two years for these exempted companies [4].

 

Allocation of GHG Emissions by Range

Before diving in on the impact of GHG emissions relating to SOPREMA’s activities and the use of the product in building construction, some nuances to the concept of ranges should be communicated.

First, note that the conventional substances (blowing agents) used for foam insulation panels have a loss rate of about 25% in the first year. [5]. This overall rate includes losses during the manufacture as well as the gradual loss during the 12 months following manufacture. Beyond the amount of gas consumed and the GWP associated with the gas used, the storage period of the products will determine direct emissions attributed to the manufacturer (Scope 1) and the indirect emissions that remain after the products are sold (Scope 3). In other words, a first portion of GHG emissions is attributable to the manufacturer and a second portion is caused during the use phase of the product until the end of its life.

Here are some nuances to determine the direct and indirect emissions related to the manufacturer, as well as the indirect emissions happening during the use phase*.

 

*It should be noted that the results presented in the section “Global Reduction of GHG Emissions” do not constitute an exhaustive and fully representative image of the embodied carbon related to the SOPRA-XPS line. The estimate of the carbon impact reduction is based on reliable, verified and reviewed information that was available at the time of writing this publication. To find out what elements have been considered and excluded, see the section “Details on the Methodology – Data Relating to SOPREMA’s Activities”.

Global Reduction of GHG Emissions

Overall, changes made to the SOPRA-XPS line have significantly reduced the total GHG emissions associated with SOPREMA’s activities compared with the previous generation. As shown in the next figure, this represents a 98.71% reduction in total GHG emissions, or more than 110,340 t CO2 eq. avoided on an annual basis.

More specifically, the changes made to the SOPRA-XPS range have significantly reduced the GHG emissions associated with the manufacturing process (Scope 1) and the product (Scope 3) compared to the previous generation. As illustrated in the figure below, the new generation of the SOPRA-XPS line represents a decrease of 94.96% for the manufacturing process (Scope 1) and 99.65% for the product (Scope 3) compared to the previous generation. More precisely, it is approximately 21,150 t CO2 eq. (Scopes 1 and 2) and 89,191 t CO2 eq. (Scope 3) avoided due to the change of blowing agent.

 

 

However, the changes have no short-term impact on direct emission sources, such as fossil-fuel consumption for buildings and other equipment (Scope 1) and product transport (Scope 1) as well as the sources of indirect emissions related to power consumption (Scope 2) and residual materials generated by the plant (Scope 3).

In order to present the reduction of the carbon impact in another way for the builders, the results correspond to the use phase for the product and the building. By way of comparison, the results of the industry average for polystyrene panels equivalent to the previous generation as well as the results specific to certain manufacturers for the new generation of products are also presented.*

 

*It should be noted that the results presented in the section “Reduction of GHG Emissions at the Product and Building Scales” do not constitute an exhaustive and fully representative portrait of the embodied carbon relating to the SOPRA-XPS line and other equivalent insulation panels. The estimate of the carbon impact reduction is based on reliable, verified and reviewed information that was available at the time of writing this publication. To find out which elements were considered and excluded, see the section “Details on the Methodology – Data Relating to the Canadian Industry and to SOPREMA Canada”.

Reduction of GHG Emissions at the Product and Building Scales

It has been shown previously that the reduction of GHG is highly significant at the product level (Scope 3). This therefore means that the changes made greatly reduce the carbon impact at the use phase, that is to say for the part of the building which uses SOPRA-XPS as thermal insulation.

GHG Emissions at the Product Scale

The new SOPRA-XPS generation contains 1.29 kg CO2 eq./m3 compared to 1,053.09 kg CO2 eq./m3 for the industry average compared to the previous generation. Although the results of the new generation show that all manufacturers have reduced their quantity of GHGs per m3, the impact varies greatly depending on the product line. In the case of SOPRA-XPS, it is 99.80% less than DuPont, and 98.62% less than Owens Corning.

 

 

GHG Emissions at the Building Scale

In order to better illustrate the impact of the product on the scale of a building, a hypothetical scenario of a typical construction application method was created.

The results are therefore based on a 20,000 ft2 commercial building with extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation panels as thermal insulation on the concrete slab and foundation walls. The surface area to be covered with insulation panels (XPS) is approximately 7,800 ft2. Including a 10% loss rate on site, such a project would require the use of approximately 1,870 panels of 2′ × 8′ or a volume of 2,145 ft3 (60.75 m3).

As shown in the next figure, the new generation SOPRA-XPS insulation used on this project would emit a total of 0.08 t CO2 eq. over its entire lifecycle. In comparison, the FOAMULAR® NXGTM insulation by Owens Corning and North American Grey Reduced GWP StyrofoamTM by DuPont would emit respectively a total of 5.7 t CO2 eq. and 39.3 t CO2 eq. during the use phase on the building scale only.

 

Note: Details on the Methodology

Communicating sufficiently representative and exhaustive results is a complex exercise depending on the information available, especially for the SOPRA-XPS line. This is mainly due to the fact that the products have not yet been subject to a lifecycle analysis (LCA) and an environmental product declaration (EPD).

The assessment of the carbon impact of the product is based in part on verified data from SOPREMA Canada’s activities and partly on generic data from the Canadian industry from various publications related to equivalent products. This choice was made on purpose, in order to provide an overview of the reduction in GHG emissions at the level of SOPREMA Canada and its clients using extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation panels.

Data Relating to SOPREMA Canada’s Activities

The verified data relating to SOPREMA Canada’s activities are mainly based on the results of the 2019 GHG Inventory, which was carried out by an independent third party in accordance with the requirements of the international ISO 14064-1:2006 standard. The references used are as follows: [5], [6], [7], [8] and [9].

The data used correspond to the following elements:

  • Scope 1 – Direct emissions related to facilities – Combustion of natural gas – Combustion of propane. Direct emissions related to manufacturing processes – Use of gas to blow the foam. Direct emissions related to product transportation – Fuel consumption of heavy vehicles.
  • Scope 2 – Indirect emissions related to energy – Power consumption.
  • Scope 3 – Other indirect emissions linked to residual materials – Other indirect emissions linked to products.

Briefly, the data excluded correspond to the following elements:

  • Scope 3 – Other indirect emissions linked to the extraction, processing and transport of raw materials – Other indirect emissions related to the installation, maintenance, repair, and replacement of products on site – Other indirect emissions related to product packaging – Other indirect emissions related to the deconstruction, transformation, transport and disposal of residual materials linked to the product at the end of its useful life.

Data Relating to the Canadian Industry and SOPREMA Canada

Generic data for the Canadian industry is based primarily on the results of EPDs specific to polystyrene panels from manufacturers Owens Corning [10], [11] and DuPont [12], [13]. It should be noted that these results are mainly influenced by the type of blowing agents used by the manufacturer.

The estimate of GHG emissions is based on the following elements:

  • The results relating to the global warming potential which were disclosed in the EPDs of the manufacturers for the use phase (B1), converted to kg CO2 per cubic metre (m3) of foam manufactured.
  • For comparison purposes, GHG emissions attributable to the use phase of SOPRA-XPS products had to be used without an EPD for these products. The GHG estimate is based specifically on the impact of the gas (blowing agent) used by SOPREMA Canada and could therefore be overestimated.

The estimate of GHG emissions excludes the following elements:

  • Global warming potential results disclosed in EPDs from manufacturers listed for all other lifecycle stages. It also excludes all other categories of environmental impacts.
  • All other direct or indirect emissions relating to SOPREMA Canada’s activities that were included in the 2019 GHG Inventory.

References

[1]      Environment and Natural Resources Canada (2019). The Montréal Protocol: Protecting the Ozone Layer and Tackling Climate Change.

[2]     Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999). Ozone-Depleting Substances and Halocarbon Alternatives Regulations. DORS/2016-137.

[3]     Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] (2013). Glossary ‒ Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC.

[4]     Environment and Natural Resources Canada (2021). Authorizations for Ozone-Depleting Substances and Hydrofluorocarbons: Companies with Essential Purpose Permits for Foam and Foam Products.

[5]     American Carbon Registry (2016). Emission Reduction Measurement and Monitoring Methodology for the Transition to Advanced Formulation Blowing Agents in Foam Manufacturing and Use. Version 1.0. Table 5.

[6]     Environment Canada (2017). National Inventory Report 1990–2015.

[7]     Environment Canada (2019). National Inventory Report 1990–2017.

[8]     Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] (2006). Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Volume 5: Waste, Chapter 4: Biological Treatment of Solid Waste.

[9]     Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPPC] (2013). Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing – Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPPC.

[10]    UL Environment (2019). Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) – FOAMULAR® XPS INSULATION. Owens Corning.

[11]     UL Environment (2021). Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) – FOAMULAR® NGXTM XPS INSULATION. Owens Corning.

[12]    UL Environment (2021). Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) – NORTH AMERICAN GREY REDUCED GWP STYROFOAMTM BRAND XPS PRODUCTS. DuPont.

[13]    UL Environment (2021). Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) – STYROFOAMTM BRAND XPS PRODUCTS. DuPont.

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