Ambitious climate goals, such as those set by the European Union, pose opportunities for innovation within the construction, tech and materials industries. More than seven years ago, the 3MTM Glass Bubbles team of the Advanced Materials Division (AdMD) was challenged to create a more sustainable insulation solution to better insulate and lessen CO 2 emissions from increasingly aging buildings in European city centers. Within the EU, more than 75% of the European building stock is considered to be in great need of energy renovation.
The European Green Deal is an ambitious plan to make the EU’s economy more sustainable by addressing climate and environmental challenges. As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission created a “ renovation wave ” with the goal of solving the renovation backlog in old buildings sustainably. The need for new building solutions is clear: buildings account for 40% of energy consumption in the EU and 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by energy consumption. Significantly lowering these emissions is essential to helping the European Commission reach its goal of making the EU climate-neutral by 2050.
That’s where 3M AdMD’s customer Maxit, a German building material manufacturer, comes in. Prior to 2013, Maxit was exploring using 3M Glass Bubbles in paints for a high performance, cost-effective alternative to conventual fillers. Understanding the benefits of this 3M science, Maxit wanted to tap the minds and technologies at 3M to explore possible solutions for more sustainable building insulation. Intrigued and excited by a potential new application for 3M Glass Bubbles, 3M joined Maxit and the German Ministry of Education and Research in 2013 to propose project funding that would allow the team to research using 3M Glass Bubbles in insulation and construction materials.
Ecosphere Comes to Life
The project received funding from 2014-2017. During this time, 3M AdMD was hard at work with university partners, the University of Bayreuth and the University of Weimar, running studies, gathering technical results, and researching how 3MTM Glass Bubbles could contribute to a more sustainable future for European infrastructure.
After years of research and two years of product development, Ecosphere , a first-of-its-kind mineral-based spray insulation made with 3M Glass Bubbles , was launched to the market in Munich at BAU 2019 , the world’s largest construction fair. It caught the eyes of everyone at the fair: politicians, press members, and industry leaders.
Not only is Ecosphere a more sustainable insulation option, it’s easy to use, fast to apply, durable, 100% mineral-based and non-flammable. Other conventional building insulation materials pose multiple challenges, including flammability, mold growth, a lack of sustainability and not being recyclable. 3M, Maxit (and its partners) found it essential to address not just one, but all of these problems.
In addition to addressing some of the biggest pitfalls of traditional insulation materials, Ecosphere can be used with buildings both old and new. Using the solution on historic buildings won’t change the look and history of the building. This is especially important when it comes to protected facades on notable buildings that weren’t possible to renovate or insulate with earlier insulation materials.
“Ecosphere is a unique product. The properties are well-balanced and outshine any product on the market tenfold,” said Marcel Schwemmer, Key Account Manager for 3M Germany.
3MTM Glass Bubbles have been used in many industries, including automotive, electronics, cementing, paints, coatings and more. Since Ecosphere launched, 3M has received numerous requests from other companies in the dry mortar space looking to take advantage of the innovative and versatile 3M technology.
This new application for 3M Glass Bubbles in the Ecosphere product was in large part successful because of the strong collaboration between 3M and Maxit. Not many teams would have had the perseverance to see a 7+ year project through or the tenacity to think differently.
"At first, Ecosphere seemed like a lofty idea that required an extensive timeline. It would’ve been easy to lose sight of our goal to create a more sustainable option for our customers," said Friedrich Wolff, Application Engineering Specialist for 3M in EMEA. "I’m proud of the endurance of this team and the success we’ve had in enabling more sustainable communities."
Not only was the solution a new application for 3M Glass Bubble technology and a new opportunity in an untapped market, but it is also a strong example of 3M’s mission and values at work. When Maxit approached 3M with a unique challenge, through collaboration, extensive testing and 3M science, a new solution was born. Not only does Ecosphere address Maxit’s problem, but it also supports the EU’s sustainability goals which ultimately impact communities around the world and address one of the world’s biggest challenges.
“We were able to think outside of the box, cross collaborate and enter a new market,” said Rene Kraemer, 3M Global Division Segment Manager. “It’s been a truly exciting experience.”
The opportunities for 3M Glass Bubbles are endless. The motivated, passionate, and persistent AdMD team looks forward to new customer collaboration opportunities to help solve their toughest challenges.
To learn more about how 3M is positively impacting our planet, visit 3M.com/sustainability.