Environmental impact of the EPSPEX system. Part 1: Life cycle assessment of polystyrene insulated district heating systems with PEX fluid pipes
Rapport, 2005

The EPSPEX system is a distribution system for district heat with media pipes of cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) insulated by blocks of expanded polystyrene (EPS). In this low-pressure distribution system two pipes are used for a space heating circuit, having layers of EVAL to hinder oxygen diffusion, whereas two pipes without diffusion barrier are used for delivery of hot tap water and warm water circulation. The four pipes are placed in the insulating blocks of EPS. Environmental impacts from production, laying and use of an EPSPEX district heat distribution system have been investigated using life cycle methodology. The distribution system is a secondary system developed specially for areas with low heat density. The case studied is the installation and use of an EPSPEX system in Vråen, Värnamo, Sweden. The environmental impacts are described in four categories: climate change, acidification, eutrophication and use of finite resources. Four weighting methods have also been used in the evaluation: EPS2000, Ecoscarcity, ExternE and EcoIndicator99. While carefully considering the precise circumstances of this study, the findings can be adapted for using the EPSPEX district heat distribution systems in other areas. During this study the question was raised of how this district heat delivery system compares with systems that use conventional district heating pipes. This has been further investigated and is reported in the second part of this report: Miljöbelastning från EPSPEX-systemet. Del 2: Konventionella twinrör eller EPSPEX – vad är bäst ur miljösynpunkt. In the second part the environmental impacts from the EPSPEX system have been compared with the impacts from conventional twin pipes (polyurethane insulated steel media pipes) used in a comparable setting. A discussion on the environmental choice between media pipes of PEX and steel can also be found in the second part. It should be noted that the two systems for district heat distribution are not fully comparable in function. The EPSPEX system has stricter limitations regarding pressure and temperature compared with the conventional system. The EPSPEX system is also limited in use for well drained ground conditions above the water table. Conventional district heating pipes do not have this limitation. The most important possibility to decrease the environmental impacts from the EPSPEX system is to increase the insulation, this even though the distribution system is comparably well insulated to start with. The environmental life cycle impacts of the distribution pipe system – production, laying and use – are predominated by the extra heat that has to be generated to cover the heat losses from the system. When this report was written, measurements from systems in use to confirm the model calculation of heat losses are still lacking. More fine-tuned results can be achieved when studies of the EPSPEX system in use have been concluded. Among different components in the EPSPEX system the impacts from production and transport of EPS-blocks make the major impact. Thus, it is important to utilize the polystyrene material as efficiently as possible, minimizing spillage, and to ensure that unavoidable spillage is recycled as material. However, the environmental impacts from production of the insulating blocks are well outweighed by the decreased environmental impacts gained by using the insulation. In product development it is thus important to ensure that the insulating capacity of the EPSPEX system is never decreased. Machines used for excavating the pipe trenches combust diesel oil, and the production and use of this diesel oil generates a substantial part of the environmental impacts by several of the assessment methods used. If possible, it is desirable to further minimize the excavation work and to use ‘mini excavators’ and low emitting machines (especially regarding nitrous oxides). The brass swaged coupling used to connect the PEX-pipes, gives a strong impact regarding acidification and the two weighting methods EPS2000 and Ecoscarcity, especially when compared to the very small volume fraction these devices constitute. It would be advisable to study if the devices could be made from other material or from recycled material.

life cycle assessment

suburban areas

District heating


Kristin Johansson

Chalmers, Kemi- och bioteknik, Skogsindustriell kemiteknik

Anna Maria Olsson

Chalmers, Kemi- och bioteknik, Skogsindustriell kemiteknik

Morgan Fröling

Chalmers, Kemi- och bioteknik, Skogsindustriell kemiteknik



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