Modelling key to improving fibre properties

Atomic scale modelling at IFM is providing the way for a world-leading Danish company to create next generation insulation materials.

Professor Tiffany Walsh is working on a project with colleagues at the Danish Technical University (DTU) and ROCKWOOL, a family owned manufacturer of construction materials, in particular thermal and acoustic insulation from mineral fibre.

Prof Walsh is using her expertise in molecular modelling to predict the physico-chemical properties of the fibres used to create the insulating material.

The company’s product is based on a technology to spin rock into wool, making tiny fibres, which are arranged in different configurations for thermal and acoustic insulation.

“ROCKWOOL want to know more about the fibres themselves – their chemical composition at the fibre interface and how the fibre interacts with its environment, eg at different temperatures and different humidities,” explains Prof Walsh.

“Of particular interest is the interface between the fibre and its environment, which is where we come in, given that we specialise in atomic scale modelling of interfaces.”

The company’s philosophy aligns closely with IFM’s, with a strong commitment to the circular economy. The construction industry produces a lot of waste but this company’s products are 100 per cent recyclable.

From the fundamental information uncovered by Prof Walsh and her team, the collaborators at DTU will develop macro scale predictions about how the fibres behave. The information derived from modelling will be consolidated with the company’s vast experimental knowledge-base about the fibre properties. The four-year project includes funding for a PhD student.

“It shows how something so fundamental – modelling a material at the atomic scale – is clearly of high value to a very successful company,” says Prof Walsh.

“ROCKWOOL want to know so much more about their product because they want to grow and innovate, to maintain their world-leading position. They understand the necessity of fundamental research to accomplish this.”

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