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EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATION ON BUILDING THERMAL INSULATION


FROM SUGAR PALM (Arenga pinnata) FIBER

ENGR. RENATO B. CUBILLA1


Associate Professor V
Department of Civil Engineering
College of Engineering and Information Technology

SHERLYNN P. GALIT2
Undergraduate Civil Engineering Student

YURICK A. REYES2
Undergraduate Civil Engineering Student
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EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATION ON BUILDING THERMAL INSULATION FROM


SUGAR PALM (Arenga pinnata) FIBER

Renato B. Cubilla,1
Sherlynn P. Galit and Yurick A. Reyes2

ABSTRACT

A study was conducted to determine if sugar palm (Arenga pinnata) fiber can be
used as an effective thermal insulator.
Different tests were performed in evaluating the insulation properties of the thermal
insulator product from sugar palm. These include heat resistance test, water absorption
test and flame test. The actual performance of the product with doubled thickness was
also determined in the study.
With respect to physical properties, kaong fiber had a coarse stiff texture, brown in
color and had a moisture content of 8.92 percent. When subjected to a comparative test
with a commercial product, kaong thermal insulator had lower inside temperatures.
Although, the innovated product can insulate heat more, the commercial product carried
out better output in maintaining inside temperature since there is a slower rise of
temperature readings in a given span of time. Moreover, the product emits minimum
amount of smoke, not intensely propagates fire and does not cause the burning to drip,
when subjected to direct flame exposure. Results also showed that the kaong thermal
insulator had absorbed considerable amount of water. Based on the actual performance
of the product to the controlled performed tests, kaong fiber could be an adept material
for thermal insulator application when properly sealed.

Keywords: insulator, aluminum, density, heat press

1Associate Professor V, Department of Civil Engineering, CEIT, CvSU


2Undergraduate civil engineering students of the Department of Civil Engineering, College of Engineering
and Information Technology, CaviteStateUniversity, Indang, Cavite.
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INTRODUCTION

Maintaining a comfortable building environment is fast becoming one of the largest

single consumers of energy. In many countries worldwide, this trend leads to an increase

of environmental pollution and global warming problem due to the fossil fuel used on a

daily basis to maintain comfort inside buildings. One way to reduce the energy demand

of a building is by the use of thermal insulation. Thermal insulation, by definition, is a

material added to the building structure when the building materials failed to provide the

desirable amount of resistance to heat transfer ( ).

Currently, there are different kinds of materials being used to make thermal

insulators; however, studies are still being conducted to investigate their performances as

new alternative materials. Among those materials given attention by researchers are

natural fibers.

Sugar palm (Arenga pinnata) or kaong is a non-wood forestry product ( ).

It is a good source of fiber, known as kabo-negro, which is used in many engineering

applications( ). It is found growing naturally in the Philippines, usually along

river banks from low to middle elevations ( ). It is estimated that there are about

4.67 million kaong trees in dipterocarp forests ( ).

This study is intended to investigate if kaong fiber can be developed as an effective

thermal insulator. Specifically, it aimed to: study the physical properties of kaong fiber;

determine the heat insulation performance, water absorption rate and fire resistance of

kaong fiber for use as thermal insulator; and compare the cost of fabrication of kaong

thermal insulator with existing commercial insulators.


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METHODOLOGY

The process flowchart in preparing the kaong thermal insulator and determining its

porperties is shown in Figure 1.

Data Gathering

Information about thermal insulators and kaong fiber came from journals, past

research studies and the internet.

Kaong Fiber

Oven drying / moisture


content determination

Polypropylene Oven dried Kaong Fiber Aluminum Foil


(Drinking Straw)

Kaong Thermal Insulator

Heat Resistance Water Flame


Test Absorption Test
Test

Figure 1. Preparation and properties determination of kaong thermal insulator


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Preparation of kaong fibers

The collected kaong fibers were oven-dried at a temperature of 100°C for 36 hours.

The oven-dried fibers were chopped into 1.2 – 1.5 cm to ensure easy blending with the

matrix.

Fabrication of the Sugar Palm Fiber Thermal Insulator Samples

The thermal insulator were prepared using the materials arranged in layers as

follows: aluminum foil, oven-dried fiber, threaded drinking straws, oven-dried fiber, and

aluminum foil. Each layer of fiber has a weight range of 2.0 g to 3.0 g. The number of

layers depends on the desired thickness. For this study, samples with 5 mm and 10 mm

thicknesses were fabricated. The product was then compressed by the use of heat press.

A total of eight (8) samples were used in the study.

Heat Insulation Performance Test

One of the criteria for the selection of an insulation material is thermal

resistance( ). There are apparatuses used for measuring the thermal resistance

of a particular insulator, hence, the researchers performed an improvised test made by

Ganiron and Torres (2013). The test required the construction of five experimental houses

with symmetrical features. Short bond paper size (8.5 by 11 inches) kaong insulators were

subjected to a comparative test with a commercial product. The product was also

compared to a cabin with no insulation as well as the temperature reading of the outside

surrounding to evaluate the effectiveness of placing the thermal insulation. The houses

were placed under the sun in a position where both cabins receive the same amount of

heat radiation from the sun. The inside and outside temperatures were recorded by

placing thermometers inside and outside of each cabin on a 30-min. interval from 11:00
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am up to 4:00 pm. Two (2) samples, with 5 mm and 10 mm thicknesses, were used for

this test. Five (5) trial periods were made.

Water Absorption Test

Water absorption test was performed to calculate the weight of insulator due to
water absorbed in the pore spaces or voids. Water absorption is equal to the difference
between weight of sample in wet and dried conditions divided by weight of sample in dried
condition multiplied by one hundred.
(𝐴 − 𝐵)
𝐴𝑏𝑠𝑜𝑟𝑝𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 (%) = × 100
𝐵

where A = wet mass of unit in kg and B = dry mass of unit in kg

The test was performed on 8 cm x 8 cm x 0.5 cm test specimens. The rate of

absorption of the samples was observed in seven days. Water absorption rate of the

sample with doubled thickness was also determined. Two (2) trials were made.

Flame Test

This test was performed to determine how the material may respond to flame. The

material's reaction to direct exposure to flame is important in interpreting its level of safety.

Gas stove, iron stand, iron ring and stop watch were used in conducting this test. The

samples with thicknesses of 5 mm and 10 mm were placed on an iron ring right at the top

of the flame coming from the gas stove. The time of appearance of smoke and flame was

recorded using stop clock assigned to each sample.

Cost Analysis

The cost of fabrication of the innovated insulator was analyzed. It was compared

with the cost of other types of thermal insulators already available in the market.
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RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Properties of Kaong Fiber

The properties of kaong are important in capturing the useful characteristics and

understanding of its limits. Studies conducted by Ishak et al. (2012) showed that

mechanical properties of kaong fiber had a correlation to their chemical properties. It was

revealed that kaong fiber located very close to the ground will contain higher ash content

and lower moisture content. Tensile properties of the fiber are strongly influenced by its

cellulose content that provides strength and stability to the cell walls of fibers (Reddy &

Yang, 2005 as cited in Ishak, 2012).

In terms of appearance, kaong fiber is coarse in texture, brown in color and has an

average moisture content of 7.4 percent.

Heat Insulation Performance of Kaong Thermal Insulator

The temperature readings were recorded from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm at an interval

of 30 minutes for five experimental days. Average temperature readings obtained by using

arithmetic mean formula are presented in Table 1. The heat insulation performance of 5

and 10 mm thick kaong and commercial insulators were determined as shown in Figures

2 to 5.

Based on the obtained data, the maximum temperature reading (35.2°C) was

recorded from 12:00 to 1:00 pm (interval of 90 to 120 min). As shown in Figures 4 and 5,

both 5 and 10 mm thick kaong insulators have obtained lower inside temperature (P<

0.8°C and P< 1.2°C, respectively) than the commercial product. Although kaong insulator

can insulate heat more, the commercial product carried out better output in maintaining

inside temperature since there is a slower rise or fall (P< 1.85% for 5 mm thickness and
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P< 2.5% for 10 mm thickness) of temperature readings in a given span of time. This may

be due to the porosity of the material. Porous materials owe their insulating properties to

the air trapped inside them .From the obtained results, it can be said that kaong insulator

is more porous than the commercial product. Thus, more air is trapped inside them. Air,

compared to solids and liquids, has molecules which are far apart from each other,

causing it to transfer heat slower ( ).

Table 1. Average temperature readings


Interval Average temperature (°c)
S1 S2 S3 S4 NI OT
11:00-11:30 31.8 31.6 31.2 30.6 32.4 33.4
am
11:30-12:00 nn 32.4 32.4 32.0 32.0 33.6 34.6
12:00-12:30 32.6 32.2 32.0 31.6 34 35.2
pm
12:30-1:00 pm 32.2 32.4 31.8 31.2 33.8 35.2
1:00-1:30 pm 32.6 32.0 32.0 31.0 33.4 34.2
1:30-2:00 pm 32.4 32.0 32.2 31.2 33.0 34.0
2:00-2:30 pm 31.4 31.2 31.2 30.6 33.0 33.6
2:30-3:00 pm 30.8 30.8 30.4 30.2 32.2 33.0
3:00-3:30 pm 30.2 30.0 29.4 29.2 30.8 31.6
3:30-4:00 pm 29.6 29.2 29.4 29.2 30.4 30.8

36
35
Temperature ( o C)

34
33 Kaong Insulator
32 No Insulation
31
30 Outside Temperature
29
28
27
26

Time Interval
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Figure 2. Heat insulation performance of 5-mm thick kaong thermal insulator

36
35
34
Temperature (oC)

33 Kaong Insulator
32 No Insulation
31
Outside Temperature
30
29
28
27
26

Time Interval

Figure 3. Heat insulation performance of 10-mm thick kaong thermal insulator

36
35
34
Temperature (oC)

33
32
31
30
Commercial Insulator
29
Kaoing Insulator
28
27 No Insulation
26

Time Interval

Figure 4. Heat resistance test results (5 mm thick insulator)


10

36
35
34
Temperature (oC)

33
32
31 Commercial
30 Insulator
29 Kaong
28 Insulator
27 No Insulation
26

Time Interval

Figure 5. Heat resistance test results (10 mm thick insulator)

Water Absorption Rate of Kaong Thermal Insulator

The sample having 10 mm thickness yielded average water absorption rate of

55.10 percent, 1.178 percent higher than with 5 mm thickness (Table 2).

Table 2. Water absorption rate of kaong thermal insulator


No. Thickness Initial Final Absorption Average
of weight weight rate (%)
trials (grams) (grams) (%)
1 5 mm 9.626 20.616 53.308
53.924
2 5 mm 9.587 21.089 54.540
1 10 mm 13.994 31.859 56.075
55.102
2 10 mm 14.032 30.590 54.129

It was observed that though the thickness was doubled, the results did not manifest

considerable difference.
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Water or moisture content affects the insulation properties of a material. As the

moisture content of the insulator increases, its heat resistance decreases. A single

percent by volume increase in moisture (density) of the insulation yields a 7.5 percent

increase in thermal conductivity or the transference of heat from one surface to another.

This is obvious when comparing the thermal conductivity of water to insulation. The

thermal conductivity of water is 13 times greater than insulation. The result of this study

in kaong fiber got a higher value than the findings of the study in coco coir that has an

absorption rate of only 2 percent (sagarkumar et al., 2013).

The highly significant amount of water absorbed by the insulator may be

contributed by poor interfacial bonding with the matrix and by the fabrication process

where the product was not sealed well. It was observed that kaong fiber responds well to

water absorption. When the product is not completely sealed, there will be an intrusion of

water. As water molecules enter kaong fiber cell wall, they diffuse in cell wall and occupy

the space in fiber lumen, causing the density of the fiber to increase (Ishak, 2012).

Fire Resistance of Kaong Thermal Insulator

The time of appearance of smoke and actual flame in the kaong thermal insulator

is presented in Table 3.

During the test, it was observed that there was a minimum smoke emission and

moderate fire propagation. Upon direct exposure to flame, the sample remained to be

stable and did not cause the burning to drip.

Smoke in both samples became visible at 6 seconds. Actual flame in the sample

having 10 mm thickness became present at 36 seconds while in the sample having 5 mm

thickness at 31 seconds. The thicker sample was ablaze by the time the 5 mm-thick
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sample had already burned up.

Cost Analysis

Kaong fiber, drinking straws and aluminum foil were used for the fabrication of the

Kaong thermal insulator. Kaong costs ₱ 20.00/kg, drinking straws ₱ 20.00/200 pieces and

aluminum foil ₱ 30.00/roll.

Table 3. Fire resistance of kaong thermal insulator


Interval Sample thickness
5 mm 10 mm
0-5 - -
6-10 smoke smoke
11-15 smoke smoke
16-20 smoke smoke
21-25 smoke smoke
26-30 smoke smoke
31-35 flame smoke
36-40 ablaze flame
41-45 burned up ablaze
46-50 burned up

After consolidating all the materials and electricity cost, the cost of kaong thermal

insulator per square meter having thicknesses of 5 mm and 10 mm was ₱ 167.11 and ₱

248.17, respectively.

Thermal insulators available in the market are in varied thicknesses. For easy

comparison, the prices of these products were obtained by ratio and proportion in terms

of thickness.

The costs of other insulators are lower than the innovated product (Table 4).

Among all the materials used for the fabrication of kaong thermal insulator, drinking straw
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contributed the highest value (₱ 70.31 and ₱ 140.63) to the product’s cost.

Table 4. Cost of existing thermal insulator


Product Cost (P) Cost (P)
5 mm 10 mm
Fiberglass Rockwool Insulation 63.80 127.60
SBS Bitumen Waterproof Sheet 94.50 189.00
Membrane roof Insulation
Reflective PE Foam Insulation (Aero foam 92.50 141.00
Classic)
Reflective PE Foam Insulation (Aero foam 162.50 211.00
Advantage)
Foaming Rubber Insulation 225.00 450.00
EPE & XPE Closed Cell Foam with 90.00 180.00
Aluminum Foil Insulation
Cellulose insulation 37.50 75.00

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS


Conclusion

Kaong thermal insulator has better heat insulation performance than the

conventional product. The study revealed that the innovated product when subjected to

direct exposure to sunlight can absorb heat more than the commercial one.

The kaong thermal insulator exhibits good fire resistance. Upon the direct

exposure to flame, the product caused minimum smoke emission and slow fire

propagation. It is also important to note that the kaong insulator remained to be stable

and did not cause the burning to drip.

It was found out that kaong thermal insulator acquires and holds highly significant

amount of water, causing it to decrease its heat resistance. Proper sealing of the product

is important in avoiding water/moisture intrusion.

Compared with other products already available in the market, the Kaong thermal
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insulator has a higher cost. The cost of kaong thermal insulator per square meter having

thicknesses of 5 mm and 10 mm is ₱ 167.11 and ₱ 248.17, respectively. Commercially

available products have a cost ranging from ₱ 40.00 to ₱ 225.00, for 5 mm-thick, and

from ₱ 75.00 to ₱ 450.00, for 10 mm-thick.

Based on results of the study, it can be concluded that kaong fiber can be

developed as effective thermal insulator, especially when sealed. Moreover, thickness

greatly affects the insulation properties of a product. It was found out in this study that the

thicker the insulator, the better the product’s ability to slow down heat transfer and rate of

flame tolerance, and absorb moisture.

Recommendations

From the findings on the study, the following are recommended:

The kaong fiber should be properly sealed for application in areas where there is constant

water intrusion since it absorbs moisture that will cause the product to loss its thermal

resistance. A better method of compacting, binding and sealing of materials can be used

for the fabrication of the product. Standard test procedures using apparatuses provided

by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) can be conducted to better

evaluate the properties of Kaong thermal insulator. Further study using a more

appropriate method for fabrication process may be conducted to come up with a better

result since this study failed to produce completely sealed insulator. Since drinking straw

contributed the highest value in the kaong thermal insulator’s cost, other types of material

may be used and studied.


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LITERATURE CITED

Ishak M.R., Sapuan S.M., Leman Z., Rahman M.Z.A., Anwar, U.M.K., Siregar, J.P.
(2012) Sugar Palm (Arenga Pinnata): Its fibers, polymers and composites.
Carbohydrate Polymers 91 (2013) 699-710

Ganiron Jr, Tomas U. (2013). Investigation on the use of Coco coir polypropulene as
Thermal Insulator. International Journal of Advanced Science and Technology vol.
59, pp. 13-26.