Decarbonisation revolution

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Knauf Insulation is stepping up initiatives to meet the company’s ambitious 2025 target to cut embodied carbon by 15%.

By 2025 Knauf Insulation’s plant at Visé in Belgium will have reduced its carbon embodied emissions from electricity by 95%.

 

It will be an incredible achievement that will have seen a complete transformation in the way in which the plant is powered. The number of photovoltaic panels will have increased from 6,000 in 2020 to 10,000 with thousands still expected to be added.

A new windmill will be rotating above the plant generating more than 10% of the electricity needed and the remaining power will be sourced by power companies that provide ‘cleaner’ energy from wind, solar or hydro sources and certified by credible Guarantees of Origin (GOs) rather than the carbon-heavy grid mix.

Jean-Pierre Pigeolet, Knauf Insulation’s Decarbonisation and Life Cycle Sustainability Manager, says: “This is not so much an energy transition but an energy revolution for Knauf Insulation.

“Visé is just the first of many Knauf Insulation plants to be decarbonised and we are stepping up the pace for others around Europe, the Middle East and Asia.”

There is a lot of pressure to achieve. In line with the company’s For A Better World sustainability strategy, Knauf Insulation has committed to reduce the embodied carbon of its solutions by 15% per tonne of product by 2025.

That means cutting the carbon generated at every stage of a product’s life cycle from the extraction of materials and insulation product’s manufacture to transportation, installation and end of life.

The biggest gains in terms of decarbonisation are to be made at the manufacturing stage where 65% of product carbon is generated. Jean-Pierre says the annual amount of electricity consumed by the plants generates the equivalent in indirect emissions of powering 200,000 homes.

Since 2019, when the company introduced a new system to provide forensic insight into its carbon footprint, a wide range of initiatives have been introduced or trialled.

Like Visé, plants now have projects to install photovoltaic panels to generate ‘cleaner’ energy while plans are underway to replace the carbon-heavy coke that is used to fuel the manufacture of Rock Mineral Wool with electric systems that can use renewable sources.

“These changes cannot happen overnight because they are costly, disruptive and often local electricity grids might not have access to greener energy,” says Jean-Pierre.

“However, we are working on long-term contracts and agreements with companies that are investing in renewable energy such as wind farms and carrying out research and development projects at plants involving hydrogen and bio-gas.”

In addition, there are initiatives to source more material that can be recycled such as more used bottle glass to avoid using more carbon intensive processes to manufacture products from virgin raw materials.

Programmes of continuous improvement across Knauf Insulation are also producing positive results. For example, any heat escaping in the manufacturing process will be challenged for the creation of steam and electricity or pre-heating of raw material.

 

Balancing operations with responsibility

Switching to ‘cleaner’ sources of energy cannot happen overnight — commercial realities and operational imperatives need to be balanced with environmental responsibility.

David Ducarme, Knauf Insulation’s Group Chief Operating Officer, says: “The time at which we can invest depends on external factors. A good example is our plant in Czechia. If we were to implement new technologies today, we would not only significantly increase the emissions of carbon because Czech electricity has high levels of carbon, but we also increase our costs. It makes no sense to change technology today.

“However, if we project to 2050, not changing the technology would result in small decrease in carbon and big increase in cost, but if we implemented new technologies, we would decrease carbon and cost. Finding the right time is crucial and will take a full investment cycle of 30 years."

 

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Management by measurement

Knauf Insulation measures the ‘Global Warming Potential’ of CO2 across the entire life cycle of its products — from the sourcing of materials and manufacture to end of life — and reports the results in Environmental Product Declarations.

And to understand where these numbers can be lowered to achieve the company’s 2025 embodied carbon reduction of 15% from a baseline year of 2019 — Knauf Insulation needs to have trustworthy data produced using universally accepted methodology.

Using internationally recognised Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards, Knauf Insulation has partnered with a company called CO2 Logic to understand how each ‘scope’ area impacts the company in terms of carbon and have the results available at the click of a computer mouse.

Scope 1 covers direct emissions from the company’s facilities and scope 2 deals with the indirect energy bought to power these facilities. Scope 3 covers everything else from raw material extraction and processes, their transport to plant; products’ transportation to construction sites and their end of life after use in buildings; and other aspects, such as people commuting to plants and business travel.

For Knauf Insulation, scope 1 accounts today for 46% of emissions, scope 2 for 12%, and scope 3, 42%.

The company’s new dashboard allows for the analysis of individual plant’s carbon impacts. It also enables the detection of specific carbon hotspots in order to set up action plans and support to reach company carbon reduction objectives.

 

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