French bio-waste finds second life in building insulation

France is one of the few European countries to have adopted a national strategy on the bioeconomy in 2017.

This article is part of our special report Bioeconomy in the CAP’s nine objectives.

This article is also available in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

By using hemp, brewers grains and spelt husk, many French SMEs are starting to manufacture natural insulation materials based on bio-sourced materials and biowaste, which have not previously been ‘re-purposed’. In other words, they are using ‘green’ alternative to conventional insulation. EURACTIV France reports.

While the bioeconomy is developing all over France and Europe, the issue of waste has been brought to the forefront with the recent adoption of the law on waste and circular economy.

And a number of French SMEs have recently been ’re-purposing’ waste from the agri-food industry to insulate buildings, instead of throwing it away.

France is one of the few European countries to have adopted a national strategy on the bioeconomy in 2017.

The strategy aims to accompany the development of the national strategy on the bioeconomy between 2018 and 2020 and is particularly aimed at the bioeconomy’s section that isn’t related to food.

Among the measures adopted is the creation of a European “bio-based product” label.

Such a label already exists in France. It stipulates that labelled products contain a minimum of materials made from biomass (-70% for semi-rigid insulation), and facilitates access of bio-based products to public markets to encourage their use in administrations and public bodies (hospitals, schools, etc.).

According to figures provided by the AgriDées think tank, the bioeconomy accounts for around €2,100 billion in turnover in the European Union. And France’s share in the market amounts to €316 billion, making it the second-largest contributor behind Germany.

Northern French region banks on bioeconomy

In September 2018, the Hauts-de-France region (northern France) adopted a bioeconomy roadmap. The former sugar region wants to become a leader in the sector. EURACTIV France reports.

Innovative SMEs

In France, the natural insulation sector, which relies on bio-based products, has begun to develop.

Hemp insulation, of which France is the world’s second-largest producer behind China, with straw or cellulose wadding has already proved its worth.

The company Cellaouate in Brittany, for example, has been recycling newspapers since 2009 in order to create insulating panels.

However, in recent years new forms of natural insulation from biowaste have been developed by using, for instance, brewers’ grains or the waste generated by the cultivation of rice, spelt or buckwheat.

Compared to traditional insulation materials such as glass wool, these have a much better carbon balance, but also lower flammability than bio-sourced products (straw, etc.).

Recycling industry under pressure from falling raw material prices

Businesses are abandoning recycled materials in favour of cheaper virgin materials. The French recycling industry’s profits fell by 2% in 2014. EURACTIV France reports

Cereal hulls, which aren’t often used by cereal growers, can usually be made into insulating balls.

As a result, buckwheat husks, but also large spelt husks in north-eastern France and small spelt in Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d’Azur (PACA) are beginning to appear on the market, with the association “Batir en Balles” taking the lead.

In the PACA region, the SME Balleconcept uses the waste from the production of Camargue rice to offer insulating boots of different sizes. Usually used for animal bedding and stable mulching, rice husk has significant insulating advantages.

Rice husk is considered one of the cheapest insulators on the market with benefits such as moisture resistance and low flammability, it insulates in winter and summer thanks to its ability to stop the heat.

“Today, there are few bio-based materials that do this, and the straw does that a bit too,” explained Laurent Grosse of Adiabatic.

[Edited by Daniel Eck, Gerardo Fortuna]

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