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B&C efficiency push a boon to plastics

"One day, everyone will live and work in a zero-energy structure."

Jack Armstrong, building & construction markets leader, at BASF (Florham Park, NJ), made that declarative statement at the CITYDESIGN + CITYBUILD 2010 event held in September at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center in Denver. Speakers at the event laid out the looming demographic issues that will make energy-efficient structures all the more important in the not-to-distant future.

A century ago, less than 20 cities in the work had a population in excess of 1 million, while today there are 450 topping that mark. That demographic shift reached a tipping point in 2008, when for the first time ever, the majority of the world's people lived in cities. The shift will accelerate in coming decades, when the number of people in cities of one million or more inhabitants reaches 2 billion by 2025. At present, urban and rural populations are split evenly, at 3.4 billion apiece, but by 2030, it will move to 3.4 billion rural, and 4.9 billion urban, with China alone moving 300 million (nearly the U.S.'s population today) into cities.  

Within those larger and larger urban centers, Armstrong pointed out that the biggest consumers of electricity, energy, and water are buildings, consuming 70%, 37%, and 28% of each resource, respectively. In residential and commercial construction, BASF has targeted the need for greater efficiency promoting a number of its products for new buildings, as well as retrofit work, offering up heat-reflective roof coatings, structural insulated panels, spray polyurethane (PUR) insulation, and expandable polystyrene (EPS) foam sheathing, among others.

Empire State makeover
Dan Probst, global chairman, energy and sustainability services, at the Chicago branch of commercial real estate firm, Jones Lang LaSalle, noted at the event that more efficient cities will require that work be done on existing structures. "Cash for clunkers doesn't work in the building industry," Probst said, referencing the U.S. government program that offered tax incentives to drivers that traded in fuel-inefficient vehicles. "We're going to have to do something with existing buildings."

Putting its money where its mouth is, in April 2009, Jones Lang LaSalle and its program partners unveiled an energy sustainability program for the Empire State Building in Manhattan that will reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 38%, according to the company. Once completed, the building is expected to win LEED Gold building certification. The company estimated that the retrofit program would have an initial cost of approximately $20 million and result in annual energy savings of $4.4 million once implementation is complete.

Home is where the retrofit is
In addition to iconic landmarks, Armstrong said BASF believes that opportunities for greater efficiency start at home, literally. "We're really bullish at BASF on home retrofits," Armstrong said. Seeing a potential market of $2 billion, Armstrong said that of the 130 million homes in the U.S., 40 million are more than 20 years old and ripe for efficiency upgrades.

BASF has also taken it calls for greater efficiency to heart, pushing its 20,000 U.S. employees to assess the efficiency of their own homes and make upgrades where possible. Armstrong said his company, and others that serve building and construction, are taking the initiative before other entities do. "Laws are what come to be in the absence of leadership," Armstrong said, noting how foot-dragging by automotive OEMs led to the government forcing increases in fuel efficiency and pollution standards. Drawing another analogy to the automotive market, Armstrong also noted resistance to anything new and a lack of easily interpreted metrics. "Builders, don't like change," Armstrong said. "They have a recipe for buildings...We all now miles per gallon; we all know horsepower; we need metrics for buildings where [builders] design for performance."

BASF, B&C, and K
Building and construction will also be an area of focus for BASF at its K show stand (5/C21-D21). Among its product announcements will be Ultramid polyamide (PA) grades that can now be used in connectors and junction boxes of photovoltaic installations. In addition, it will present a new online tool to calculate ecological footprint, and promote its melamine resin foam Basotect, as well as PUR insulation. It will also provide a symposium to examine cross-industry solutions for urban energy, systems, and infrastructure. Tony Deligio

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