The Vicorpan Project, to improve commercial refrigerators’ energy efficiency and recyclability, is continuously evolving and bringing important results from a sustainability perspective.
Starting in 2020, together with BASF Polyurethanes and EPTA, Cannon initiated the Vicorpan Project (LIFE20 CCM/IT/1644VICORPAN) with the aim to develop and apply specific recyclable vacuum insulation panels with a high level of thermal insulation efficiency.
Compared with polyurethane foam insulation, standard VIP panels, based on very thin glass fibers, have lower thermal conductivity but are more problematic to handle in production and recycling, risking polluting the workplace with filler material.
They are heavy, and, in addition, the aluminum squared edges of these panels can compromise a considerable part of the insulation capacity provided by the vacuum, especially due to the borders’ conductivity.
The Vicorpan solution replaces the core of the VIP panels with open-cell polyurethane foam. This allows for lower specific weight, total better panel moldability, and facilitates handling and insertion of the panels into the refrigerator shell; moreover, the possibility to shape the panels reduces the edge impact.
This improves refrigerators’ energy efficiency, helping manufacturers meet increasingly stringent energy efficiency standards.
The Vicorpan Project at a glance
- 3 leading companies involved
- 17% reduction in heat transfer from refrigerators
- Lambda of the vacuum insulated panels is between 6 and 7
- Polyurethane panels can weigh up to 1/5 of a standard fiberglass VIP
- Possibility to shape the panels and close them under a vacuum
The importance of having the right equipment
Over the past year, we have made several investments to work more effectively on this project. For example, we have furnished our lab with equipment to produce 100% open-cell foam blocks on a prototype scale which are then cut as necessary and coated with aluminized plastic to form the samples. A vacuum chamber with perfect sealing and hot blades enables easy and perfect panel sealing. At the same time, a specific lambda-meter, able to measure every shape, validates their quality and insulation properties.
Our prototype equipment will also allow us to make large panels, bigger than the standard, enabling us to produce VIP panels up to about 1×1.5 mt for use in special commercial refrigerators.
Different materials, different panels, more sustainability
Dedicated machinery is critical to pushing materials research in an increasingly sustainable direction.
Using this equipment, we have developed cores of VIP panels with aggregate material either of biological origin, thus using sugarcane or wool processing residues, or of chemical origin, giving new life to polyurethane, which is ground and recycled.
In both cases, the material is fed into a mixer with adhesive, then put into a press to create the tiles.
But the panels’ shape can also make a difference, especially regarding energy efficiency.
Our team is currently developing U- or L-shaped folded panels, which are now in the prototype stage. In our work, we have managed to overcome the typical issues of this production process related to the high performance required of the machinery and the vacuum seal.