Air Renew Wallboard Absorbs Formaldehyde from Indoor Air
Forget zero-VOC: EBN is seeing more “negative-VOC” interior products. With its new AirRenew wallboard, CertainTeed aims to actually remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the room where the product is installed. It won’t remove all VOCs, but the company claims that it does a good job with one of our most prevalent—and troubling—VOCs, formaldehyde (as well as other aldehydes).
An additive in the AirRenew board reacts with formaldehyde from indoor air, trapping it in the gypsum core in a form that makes the formaldehyde “chemically harmless after absorption,” even in a landfill or during recycling, according to CertainTeed’s Ashwin Himat. Formaldehyde—commonly found in glue, paint, furniture, cleaning products, and cosmetics—is a known carcinogen that can also cause headaches, respiratory problems, depression, and other health issues.
With a patent pending on CertainTeed’s use of the additive, Himat would not reveal the formula, but he affirmed that it was a chemical formaldehyde scavenger, similar to those sometimes added to wood products to decrease formaldehyde offgassing. Unlike titanium dioxide and similar scavengers sometimes used in concrete, however, the AirRenew additive does not require UV light to catalyze the chemical reaction.
Himat also said that “in normal practice the additive would not harm humans and animals,” and that the company had performed leachate tests to ensure the wallboard would remain inert if sent to a landfill as well as high-heat tests to ensure that it could be safely recycled. Under testing conditions, “it does not convert back to its original constituents,” said Himat—meaning that formaldehyde in the board, because it has been chemically changed, is not released during recycling.
AirRenew is visually and structurally identical to standard paper-faced wallboard, and is installed the same way. But because the chemical reaction depends on vapor flow through the walls, only breathable wallpapers and latex paints should be applied to AirRenew. According to CertainTeed’s literature, the board will continue to absorb formaldehyde from indoor air even after seven coats of acrylic latex or latex epoxy have been applied. Based on a typical formaldehyde concentration in indoor air of 4–18 parts per billion, the manufacturer thinks the gypsum core could continue to absorb aldehydes for 75 years.
CertainTeed sees potential for AirRenew as a specialty wallboard for childcare centers, schools, and hospitals. When specifying this board, designers should be aware that AirRenew incorporates the company’s “M2Tech” treatment, which includes an undisclosed antimicrobial biocide for mold prevention.
While we at EBN are excited about the prospect of a relatively standard building material removing a significant indoor contaminant, the proof is in the pudding. We look forward to reviewing test data that demonstrates reduced formaldehyde levels in indoor air during actual use over a long period of time.
– Paula Melton and Alex Wilson