There are only a handful of companies around the world turning the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in food and drink packaging into a foam. The balance of cost-effectiveness with strength, thermostability and recyclability that make PET an ideal food packaging material also makes it an excellent insulator. It provides a strong core material for automotive applications and in the rotor blades of wind turbines. So it was with some surprise that David Saulnier, president, and Joel German, vice president, of JD Composites Inc. in Meteghan, Nova Scotia, discovered that no one else in the world is using recycled PET foam as a structural material to construct buildings.
Saulnier is enthusiastic about the capabilities of composite materials. With a background in boatbuilding, he and German had talked for years about the possibility of building something bigger. The two settled on a traditional design for a composite house in Meteghan River.
The conventional design would hide an extremely unique substrate. The pair decided, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to source 100% recycled materials because — why not?” Saulnier says.
Helping the environment with all-recycled materials is a feel-good story, but the major winds on the Atlantic Coast meant the team also needed a strong insulating material. The spec sheets indicated that Armacell’s PET foam would fit the bill.
While Saulnier had used several different cores in his career, he had never worked with 100% recycled PET (r-PET). So he turned for help to the supplier he’d worked closely with in his boatbuilding days. Armacell’s PET foams are made entirely from recycled bottles. (On July 1, the supplier celebrated processing of its one billionth recycled PET bottle.) The global provider of engineered foams has a facility in Brampton, Ontario, but reps flew out to meet with the JD Composites team to see the construction project for themselves.
“When they took a look at what I was doing with these panels, they said, ‘Wow. You guys are the only ones in the world doing this,’” Saulnier recalls.
The 2,000-square-foot waterfront open concept home uses engineered beams and walls made entirely with r-PET foam cores. By using Armacell’s product, the builders estimate that the Meteghan River house diverted about 612,000 bottles from landfills.
While Saulnier declined to provide details of the lamination process, he describes the end result as flanged panels that serve as both wall and structural support, much like I-beams. “The house is monolithic, meaning there’s no mechanical attachments, like nails or spikes, holding roofs to walls. It’s laminated together,” he says.