THE ULTIMATE INTERVIEW ABOUT THE THERMAL INSULATION MARKET IN LATIN AMERICA
Saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are two essential requirements that insulated panel systems for cold rooms must offer today. This niche is growing and of vital importance for the proper performance of food storage spaces, warehouses, and process plants. For these reasons, we consider it essential to know, from the point of view of an expert on the subject, the current state of this industry in Latin America, its main advances, recommendations on installation, maintenance, monitoring, and application of regulations. Alberto Adriano, Sales Director of Globe Panels, is our guest in this unique article, who has worked since 2006 in this industry and knows in detail the technologies of thermal insulation panels and their application in Latin America.
Below is the interview.
ACR: FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW, HOW IS THE THERMAL INSULATION MARKET FOR AIR CONDITIONING AND REFRIGERATION CURRENTLY IN LATIN AMERICA?
Alberto Adriano: The thermal insulation market in Latin America is receiving strong interest from all kinds of investors. In the end, thermal insulation means energy and maintenance savings, which translates into significant financial savings in the long term. For example, in recent years, we have seen that the average thickness of the insulated panel for cold rooms has increased because this benefits the refrigeration equipment that will require less maintenance.
Regarding air conditioning, we have seen the continuous increase of the pre-insulated PIR sheet throughout Latin America, including in countries like Mexico, where its use was minimal until recently. Clearly, the rise in the price of the galvanized sheet has contributed significantly, but I am convinced that the trend will continue, even if there is a price correction in the future. There is a constant search for products that improve energy efficiency. The pre-insulated sheet satisfies these requirements, both as a product and alternative to traditional galvanized sheet ducts. I am sure that we will soon find these products on the US market.
It is essential to think of thermal insulation as the invisible hand of Adam Smith, that is, as a product that fulfills a double function: the first, explicit, is to reduce energy consumption, while the second, which is hidden, is to reduce emissions greenhouse gases, which derive from non-renewable energy sources, such as the prevention of food waste at the origin, which accounts for 30% of total annual CO2 emissions. If we consider that Latin America is one of the largest producers and exporters of fruits and vegetables and that these foods are in strong demand by countries worldwide, I see a path of assured growth. Another issue is the availability of thermal insulation products in Latin American countries, which suffer from bottlenecks that sometimes create product shortages.
ACR: WHAT TECHNOLOGICAL EVOLUTION HAS THIS SECTOR HAD IN RECENT YEARS?
Alberto: The main thermal insulation products have been known in materials science for several decades: technological development has focused on making the production process more efficient and gradually adapting thermal insulation to the installation process. Two examples below may clarify what I mean: Concerning AC, I believe that the continuous improvement of PIR foams to achieve better fire behavior today is a fact and excellent news for the market. The issue of fire and energy efficiency are the two most relevant topics at this time, and it is normal for companies to be investing their R&D resources in this regard. In this direction, I feel able to recommend carefully evaluating, considering the subject so sensitive, that in the phase of choosing the installation product, the certifications and credentials of the regulatory controllers of the products. Regarding industrial refrigeration, the most emblematic case is the joint evolution between panels, which is the weak point of each refrigeration installation. Today there are gaskets available that significantly increase the tightness of a cold – room, thus allowing the construction of self-supported low-temperature vertical warehouses that are fully automatic, reaching heights unattainable with traditional gaskets.
ACR: ON THE INSTALLATION ISSUE, DO YOU THINK THAT IN OUR REGION THEY COMPLY WITH THE REGULATIONS OR THERE IS STILL NO TRAINING FOR IT (WHAT ARE THE REGULATIONS TO FOLLOW)?
Alberto: The issue of complying with regulations presupposes uncertainty and confusion about which rules to comply with. It is probably due to the lack of local rules, which can take into account the peculiarities of Latin American countries, in terms of temperature, humidity, and risk of fire, to translate them into clear regulations, easy to understand and act respectfully.
ACR: WHAT ASPECTS MUST WE TAKE INTO ACCOUNT FOR THE INSTALLATION OF INSULATED PANELS IN COLD ROOMS?
Alberto: Several aspects must be taken into consideration when choosing insulated panels for a cold room, but the most important are two:
- The type of insulation: the materials that best insulate thermally, that is, that guarantee the maximum insulation with the lowest thickness, are polyurethanes, of which it is essential to know the class of behavior in case of fire. Among the polyurethanes, those that ensure better fire behavior are insulated panels with a PIR (Polyisocyanurate) core.
It is essential to mention that the only type of insulating panel that guarantees a higher class fire behavior is rock wool, which loses a lot of thermal insulation power compared to the PIR and PUR foam panel. PIR and PUR have a 40% higher thermal insulation than rock wool, but rock wool has a superior fire behavior concerning PIR and is highly superior to PUR.
2. The thickness of the insulation: choosing low insulation thickness means saving money on the purchase and spending more on energy costs.
Choosing thicker insulation means saving gradually in the years in which the cold room is operating due to lower energy expenditure and lower maintenance cost of the refrigeration equipment because the equipment will work at a less stressful regime.
ACR: HOW IS THE MAINTENANCE OF INSULATED PANELS, AND WHAT FACTORS GENERATE POOR CARE OF THE PANELS?
Alberto: The maintenance of insulated panels is simple, but it depends on the type of finish or coating that the steel or aluminum sheet has. The finish is a paint that protects the metal from aggressive agents and the aesthetic function of offering different colors. The paint, or coating, can be different depending on where we place the insulating panels. Whether in a coastal or internal area, in a tropical or Nordic region, for use in aggressive or everyday environments. There are very resistant paints and others less.
It is essential to know what type of paint or coating the panel has to understand how to clean it from the dirt that accumulates because dirt can cause oxidation and reduce the useful life of the insulating panel. Usually, we can clean the surface with a damp cloth and ordinary detergent in low concentrations. We recommend keeping the water warm and the pressure low if using a pressure washer. For roof panels, maintenance must be annual or semi-annual. It must include the removal of dry leaves or anything that lays on the roof. In the case of roof coverings with solar panels, it is essential to eliminate any element between the solar panel and the sandwich panel roof, to minimize the risk of fire on the roof.
ACR: WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF INSULATED PANELS FOR COLD ROOMS?
Alberto: The future of insulated panels for cold rooms is exciting because the demand increases with the development of the cold chain, and that means that the change of habit in our diet towards fresh products has triggered the need for plants of process and refrigerated warehouses throughout the world, from the origin, among which Latin America plays a fundamental role, to distribution. Let’s consider that each cold room installed reduces the impact of water and food waste and reduces the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. The future of insulated panels for cold rooms will be even greater as soon as public opinion realizes its importance for the well-being of all.
ACR: HOW HAS COVID IMPACTED THIS BUSINESS COMMERCIALLY?
Alberto: The arrival of the Covid pandemic has caused a product shortage in all world markets, accompanied by a monthly price increase, both for the product and for maritime transport, causing increases of up to 150% in the price of thermal insulation and waiting times that can reach six months.
ACR: HOW DO INSULATED PANELS BENEFIT FROM REDUCING THE IMPACT OF COVID?
Alberto: The most critical contribution of insulated panels to reducing the impact of Covid is in the construction of refrigerated warehouses that have reduced the food waste in the HORECA channel, while that was closed, to be able to direct them to large food distribution.