News Brief

A New, Cost-Effective Take on Vacuum Insulation

“Modified atmosphere insulation” technology may be able to rival the performance of vacuum insulation panels at a more affordable price.

Modified Atmosphere Insulation (MAI) panels are currently in development. Here, an MAI panel is connected to a vacuum-pump assembly for testing.

Photo: Dr. Kaushik Biswas
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and industry partners say they are on track to create a foam board insulation that achieves R-12 per inch and is cost effective. If they pull it off, it would more than double the R-value of the best rigid foam insulation today.

Working with Firestone Building Products and NanoPore, the ORNL researchers are testing modified atmosphere insulation (MAI). The technology is a cousin of the vacuum insulated panel (VIP), where extremely high insulation values are achieved by sucking all the air out of panels and sealing them tightly (see Vacuum Insulation Panels Push the Envelope to R-30 per Inch). In MAI, the porous silica core is instead filled with steam, which, as it cools and condenses, leaves a vacuum. The manufacturing process is simplified in that panels don’t need to be sealed under very low pressure. That could reduce costs by 40%. Initial models suggest an added cost of $0.15 per ft2 compared to conventional insulation.

Adding R-20 insulation to the walls of new homes and U.S. existing homes built before 2010 would have an annual primary energy-saving potential of 769 trillion Btus, according to the project’s impact study. Given the opportunity for savings in existing buildings, one of the first prototypes encapsulates the MAI core using conventional polyisocyanurate insulation so that it can be a drop-in replacement for conventional polyiso boards, according to ORNL.   

For more information:

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Published April 6, 2015

Pearson, C. (2015, April 6). A New, Cost-Effective Take on Vacuum Insulation. Retrieved from

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April 7, 2015 - 6:02 pm

Ok, here we go again! 1 inch can be R-40, But is it Healthy?

April 8, 2015 - 8:53 am

Robert, since it is made from silica rather than fossil fuels and doesn't appear to require toxic blowing agents, my guess would be that it is relatively safe compared with alternatives. It's also vacuum sealed. However, you make a good point: if this comes to market, we should make sure there aren't unintended consequences like hazardous ingredients. It is still in development at this time.