‘Neptune Balls’ Can Keep Your House Warm At Night

Seaweed, while delicious with sushi, isn’t something found around the house. But if Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology is successful, energy-efficient homes might soon be bursting at the seams with it.

The institution is investigating the viability of a Mediterranean variety of seaweed, better known as Neptune grass, as a home insulation material. The grass, which routinely appears on Mediterranean beaches rolled up into neat little balls, has some important qualities (in addition to being free and sustainable) that make it ideal for the chemically-sensitive and environmentally-minded.

According to Fraunhofer Institute researchers, Neptune grass (officially known as Posidonia oceanica) displays a variety of characteristics that make it of interest to the building trade: seaweeds are virtually non-flammable, resistant to mold, and can be used as insulating material without the need for chemical additives.

It is quite versatile  and can be used as insulation between the rafters of pitched roofs, to insulate interior walls, or to reduce the amount of heat lost through building envelopes. The plant’s resilient fibers act as a buffer, absorbing water vapor and releasing it again without impairing its own ability to keep the building insulated. And with a salt content of just 0.5 to 2 percent, insulation produced from the Neptune balls is in no danger of rotting away like other organic insulation materials.

Even the process of turning the grass into insulation is relatively efficient and low impact: the balls are simply collected by hand off of the beaches in Albania and Tunisia. Once collected, they are mechanically shaken to dislodge sand and other ocean debris, and to loosen the fibers, explains Gizmag. After the balls are sufficiently cut up, they stored and transported in plastic bags, and then blown and/or hand-packed into attics or walls like other types of insulation.

The company NeptuTherm e.K. has given its name to this insulating material from the sea and is already marketing and distributing it.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog