- Swinburne University of Technology
- Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
- The PNG Balsa Company Pty. Ltd.
- Timberwood Panels Pty. Ltd.
- Austral Plywoods Pty. Ltd.
Balsa-lation is an interior lining product utilising balsa wood as a core substrate material in sandwich panels. This product offers a sustainable alternative to unsustainable Medium Density Fibreboards (MDF) and Polymer foam interior wall/ceiling linings. A Balsa-lation panel weighs one-third of a MDF panel and few people are aware that balsa is a natural resource grown on sustainable plantations in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Balsa-lation exhibits low thermal conductivity values of 0.033 W/mK and deliver noise reduction coefficients of 0.80 αw, making it a desirable material for green and lightweight construction whilst delivering a premium level of comfort for residents.
New and Novel Application
Balsa-lation is a commercial product outcome of an industrial design PhD project. The use of balsa in interior dwellings is an innovative application that could potentially transform the building and construction industry by offering one of the lightest commercial timbers available for interior fit-outs. Having a low thermal conductivity of 0.033 W/mK, balsa acts as a natural insulator, which provides a thermal barrier separating unwanted exterior temperatures from interior dwellings. The open area perforated into Balsa-lation panels also allows for sound absorption, up to 0.80 αw, reducing unwanted reverberations common in contemporary high-rise concrete constructions.
Socially Responsible Design
The PNG balsa industry employs approximately 25 per cent of the population in the East New Britain Province. Since the Global Financial Crisis the introduction of synthetic polymers has begun replacing balsa in traditional commercial applications. This has generated financial hardship to farmers and communities who grow balsa for financial returns. Balsa-lation will generate global demand for the resource and support developing communities in PNG by improving the thermal and acoustic performance in interior dwellings by using balsa – the only core material used in sandwich composites that derives from a natural and renewable resource.
Unsustainable MDF panels currently dominate interior linings in the construction industry. Balsa-lation has undergone rigorous material testing according to global standard test methods to determine its thermal conductivity (ASTM D5334), acoustic absorption coefficient (AS ISO 354), mechanical strength properties (ASTM D143) and fire performance (AS NZS 3837). Design prototyping in conjunction with material tests led to the development of a superior performing product that is competitive — and in some cases better — than existing thermal and acoustic interior lining products.
Balsa is commonly associated with arts, crafts and model-making, however this is a fraction of its commercial potential. PNG balsa was traditionally used as a core substrate material to manufacturer turbine blades for wind energy farms in China, but has since been replaced by synthetic polymer foams due to manufacturing efficiencies. Balsa-lation is proof that balsa also has great thermal and acoustics value in interior applications for the construction industry that is proven superior to MDF products which are widely accepted as unsustainable yet frequently used in interior environments.
The introduction of Balsa-lation in the building and construction industry sets out to provide a truly sustainable alternative for an industry dominated by unsustainable products. The major benefits of introducing Balsa-lation panels in interior environments over competitor panels are:
• The only sustainable core material to derive from a natural and renewable resource,
• Up to two-thirds reduction in product weight compared to competitive products,
• Superior thermal conductivity 0.033 W/mK,
• High noise reduction coefficients 0.80 αw,
• Flexible design patterns and finishes, and
• The socially responsible consideration and support to developing communities in PNG.