Sustainability at John Guest

As the heating industry strives to minimise its impact on the environment, PBPSA member company John Guest reflects on the sustainability advantages of manufacturing plastic components – in particular using Polybutene-1.

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Life span and energy performance

The mentality of the building industry has shifted towards a more rounded approach rather than simply focusing on single elements, with sustainability proving to be a pivotal point in the planning and design of any new-build or refurbishment project.

The environmental impact of a dwelling is assessed on efficiency according to its energy performance. Most of the focus is on power consumption and conservation once the residents occupy the premises. However, more awareness needs to be raised over the carbon footprint of the various building components throughout their life span.

Ecological impact

Any negative perceptions of the ecological impact of manufacturing and using plastic pipework are unjustified. When compared to other popular plumbing and heating materials such as copper and steel, the sustainability properties offered by plastics including Polybutene-1 significantly outperform those of the alternatives.

Only 4% of the world's diminishing oil feedstock is used for manufacturing plastic components - a very efficient use of input as these materials can be recycled several times and eventually burnt off for electricity production purposes. As a polyolefin material, Polybutene-1 is recyclable.

In comparison, over 86% of the world's fossil fuel reserves are exhausted by the heating and transportation industries. In contrast to metal, less energy is used to manufacture plastic materials from raw inputs. On average, just 52,000 MJ (megajoules) of oil is required to produce one cubic metre of plastics (PB/PP/PE) whereas steel requires 130.000 MJ, copper 313,000 MJ and aluminium 435,000 MJ. Also, the conversion temperatures for manufacturing final plastic goods are lower compared to metals since the typical heat required for plastic is less than 300°C as opposed to 1,300°C for copper.

Emissions from these metal refining processes also have an impact on both water and air pollution due to the generation of sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, other gases and airborne particles, plus sulphates and other solid/chemical emissions. In contrast, the oil refining and plastics polymerisation processes generate very little in the way of emissions since they are essentially fully integrated processes.

PBPSA member, JG Speedfit has long recognised the advantages of plastic for plumbing and heating applications over the metal options. The intention is to optimise the production process with the sole objective of developing ground-breaking plastic innovation while reducing the company's carbon footprint and waste.

Optimising production

In order to make sure that its plastic products pass the sustainability test from the early stages of their life span, JG Speedfit has invested significantly in optimising the process of on-line polymer granulation - a post-moulding technique used to recover and re-use the excess plastic not required for the finished product.

The benefits of on-line granulation include reduction in handling, transportation and contamination, as well as accuracy in dosing the correct materials, allowing for significant levels of manufacturing efficiency. The energy consumed to recycle unused plastic polymers is a lot less than it takes to reprocess the same amount of raw copper material.

As an example, all polymers not granulated for reuse at JG Speedfit are reprocessed rather than sent to landfill -147 tons of plastic was recycled in the first six months of 2013.

Introducing innovative methods of manufacturing plastic materials can help to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the production process. A moulding cycle that uses hydraulic accumulator technology to give instant high-pressure availability offers energy reduction levels of up to 40%.

Ongoing sustainability

At the installation stage of a plastic fitting or pipe, the sustainability credentials of synthetic materials still outweigh those of metal alternatives. The low weight of plastics makes a significant energy reduction impact as the on-site installation process doesn't require heavy-duty lifting machinery or equipment.

Transporting plastic pipes and components also pushes the boundaries of efficiency when compared to copper as the flexibility and weight properties of synthetic components allow for high volumes of product to be shipped with less effort. Polybutene-1 systems allow for pipe system assemblies to be constructed and coiled offsite in controlled conditions for shipping and efficient installation.

In use, plastic pipework circuits remain the sustainable choice for any plumbing and heating application for domestic, commercial and industrial developments. This is due to the low thermal conductivity of plastics, reducing the amount of energy being wasted as very little heat is lost through the surface of the pipe or fitting.

Ticking the green boxes

The UK Government is currently encouraging the homeowner to invest in energy-saving improvements through initiatives such as the Green Deal as part of its plan to significantly cut the country's carbon footprint within the next decade. Although the initiative seems to be gaining pace slowly, the tendency to look at alternative, sustainable means of energy distribution and consumption are already shaping the way the industry is heading and Polybutene-1 piping systems are leading the way with a broad list of advanced physical properties.

To keep pace with the market shift towards sustainability, installers must be confident in the reasoning behind the choice of any plumbing or heating component they offer to their customers. As much as speed of installation, reliability and longevity of the product are essential, it is also important to opt for materials that have been manufactured under green standards, offer high efficiency in terms of energy consumption and help prevent heat loss once installed. Plastic pipework systems tick all the boxes, and when compared on flexibility, burst performance, pressure resistance, and long term service reliability, Polybutene-1 is regarded as one of the most technically advanced materials for piping and plumbing systems currently available.

  • Author: Tony Adams

Tony Adams is a Moulding Manager for John Guest Ltd in West Drayton, Middlesex. He has worked in the plastics industry for over 20 years and has been involved in plumbing production for the last 10 years. With significant experience in plumbing, he has contributed to early stage design, development and process optimisation changes that have contributed to the creation of a high quality high volume manufacturing facility.

John Guest Ltd.

John Guest is a member of PBPSA.

Edited content source: Installer Magazine (UK)

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Polybutene-1 is often referred to as Polybutene, Polybutylene, PB-1 or PB.

Polybutene-1 is not sold by PBPSA members for use in pipe applications intended for use in North America, and those parties require their customers or distributors not to sell products made from PB-1 into pipe applications for North America.