May 30, 2013 / 11:29 AM / 4 years ago

Energy efficiency drive boosts Recticel's polyurethane insulation

* Recticel sees EU insulation market growth of 5-10 pct

* Polyurethane growth to beat market average

* Polyurethane foam expensive, but a better insulator

* Kingspan, Rockwool, Saint Gobain top EU insulation firms

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, May 30 (Reuters) - Recticel sees Europe's insulation market expanding by five to 10 percent each year and its polyurethane sector growing even faster following increases in heating costs and the introduction of tighter rules on energy efficiency for new houses.

Insulation is the smallest of the Belgian foam producer's four divisions, but it has posted the fastest growth since 2006, with annual sales more than doubling in six years.

The company, second in the polyurethane market to Ireland-based Kingspan, suffered a first drop in sales last year, but has just opened its third production plant, adding Bourges in France to existing sites in Belgium and Britain.

Insulation division chief Paul Werbrouck believes softness in Belgian, British, Dutch and French construction and renovation since mid-2012 means this year is likely to be poor, but is bullish for the long term, assuming the recession fades.

"Forget 2013, who knows long it will take, but double-digit yearly increases should come when this is over," he said, adding that he expects the insulation market to grow at least between 5 and 10 percent, with polyurethane seeing above-average growth.

He added that without it, the EU cannot achieve its goal of ensuring that new buildings will use almost no energy by 2020.

There are different kinds of insulation: mineral or glass wool, such as that made by the Isover division of French Saint-Gobain and Denmark's Rockwool ; expanded polystyrene as sold by Germany's privately held Knauf; and polyurethane, which is Recticel's speciality.

Traditionally used more for flat roofs partly because it can be walked on, solid-foam polyurethane - which is made from oil derivatives - is more expensive than the rival products, but is a superior insulator.

Werbrouck said that 2 cm of polyurethane insulates as well as 3 or more cm of mineral wool, adding it was also superior to polystyrene, a material often used in packaging.

"The requirements are high and people are more sensitive, so polyurethane has found its place in residential buildings. It's not reached an end, we think there's more to do," he added.

Polyurethane's share of the insulation market varies across Europe - from as low as 5-6 percent in France and Germany to 25-30 percent in Britain, Ireland and Belgium.

The differences can be explained by regulation, which can benefit more fire-resistant mineral or glass wool, or the specialisms and market shares built by local companies.

Emerging market demand is still modest, partly because of the cost and partly because in countries like Russia, energy prices are low, shared for a whole building and often set at a fixed monthly charge.

"It will come. Polyurethane is not cheap. It took some time in western Europe. Putting a date on it is difficult," Werbrouck said.

Recticel rival Kingspan says that if the insulation business from 2000 was largely driven by a focus on the environment, from around 2010 the focus shifted to efficiency for financial gain.

A Bank of America Merrill Lynch study on energy efficiency estimates the global insulation market is worth more than 13 billion euros per year ($17 billion), with the largest markets in Europe (6.5 billion euros) and the U.S. (4.1 billion euros).

At the end of last year, 52 percent of the world insulation market was for plastic foam, 24 percent glass wool and 19 percent stone and slag wool, BAML said.

BAML expects global insulation consumption to grow by more than five percent annually in the coming years, driven primarily by building construction.

Recticel acknowledges the insulation business is heavily dependent on the construction sector, but the company proved it could increase sales even in 2009, a time of crisis for builders, due to market share gains as consumers felt the pinch from the energy price spike in 2008.

"People know that energy is important. They do not have to be forced by legislation. They are convinced that it is a good investment for the future," Werbrouck said.

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