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Cost is one of the major factors to be considered when choosing a thermal insulator. Design engineers continuously strive to provide the best at the lowest possible cost. In the tropics climatic conditions are essentially hot and humid and a cause for daily discomfort. To some extent, air-conditioning of buildings has solved this problem. The major deterrent to air-conditioning is the exorbitant cost of imported thermal insulation materials. This has prompted a search for local, low-cost but effective thermal insulation for buildings. Coconut fiber is available at minimal cost from the copra industry in Trinidad, as it is a waste product from the coconut. The viability of using coconut fiber as building thermal insulation was explored by conducting thermal conductivity tests on 200 mm × 400 mm × 60 mm thick slab-like specimens. The test equipment used was a locally designed constant temperature hot box apparatus. This apparatus was designed to test slab-like specimens under steady-state conditions. The reliability if this experimental set up was checked using Gypsum Plaster. The thermal conductivity test results for coconut fiber over the density range 30 kg/m3 to 115 kg/m3 showed the characteristic hooked shape graph for fibrous material. For the 60 mm thick specimens at a mean temperature of 39 °C, a minimum thermal conductivity of 0.058 W/mK occurred at an optimum density of 85 kg/m3. The thermal conductivity of commonly used industrial insulators, namely loose-fill expanded vermiculite, cellular glass and blanket fiber glass, at a mean temperature of 38 °C are 0.066 W/mK, 0.061 W/mK and 0.052 W/mK respectively . When compared, these results show that air dried coconut fiber has far reaching potential for use as an effective building thermal insulation.
fibrous material, thermal insulation, building insulation, coconut fiber
Dean, Faculty of Engineering, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine,
Assistant Lecturer, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine,