Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

SPI’s Peer-Reviewed Wire and Cable LCA is Released

Life-cycle assessments (LCAs) have become a hot topic in the plastics industry.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a LCA…

 “…is a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach for assessing industrial systems. “Cradle-to-grave” begins with the gathering of raw materials from the earth to create the product and ends at the point when all materials are returned to the earth… a LCA provides a comprehensive view of the environmental aspects of the product or process and a more accurate picture of the true environmental trade-offs in product and process selection.”

Several years ago, EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program worked with representatives of the wire and cable industry to evaluate the environmental impacts of the current standard material formulations and alternative formulations used in insulation and jacketing for selected wire and cable products. The final LCA report was issued in 2008.

Members of SPI’s Wire and Cable Section of the Fluoropolymers Committee, many of whom were part of the EPA project, decided to build off of the DfE report.  The recently released peer-reviewed SPI report compares the life-cycle environmental impacts of fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP)-insulated plenum-rated communication wire (CMP) cable to a polyethylene (PE)-insulated rise-rated communication cable (CMR) encased in a metal conduit in plenum space. 

Ok, so what does that actually mean? From a basic building standpoint, “plenum space” typically refers to the space between the structural ceiling and dropped ceiling and is used to house communication cables for a building’s computer and telephone network.  Because plenum spaces are typically rich in oxygen, they pose a potential risk to a building in the event of a fire.  As a result, fluoropolymer resins, which have excellent durability in fire situations to meet and exceed safety codes and outstanding chemical and thermal resistance, are often used in the plenum space.  However building codes in Chicago and Las Vegas make the use of CMR in metal conduit more prevalent.  In addition, the use of CMR cable in conduit in Europe is common given the lack of built in plenum space.

This project scientifically evaluated the complete life-cycle impacts of functionally equivalent cable installation alternatives (i.e., FEP cable versus a PE-insulated cable in metal conduit) to quantify the differences between these alternatives so that so that electrical engineers, architects and building owners can make environmentally informed decisions.  The findings of the report were fascinating and provided detailed information about both options.  In order to make an educated decision when evaluating which option to use, you need to check this free report out.

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