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Articles on Polyurethanes

Introduction to Polyurethanes by the American Chemistry Council

Polyurethanes are one of the most versatile plastic materials. The nature of the chemistry allows polyurethanes to be adapted to solve challenging problems, to be molded into unusual shapes and to enhance industrial and consumer products by adding comfort, warmth and convenience to our lives.

Polyurethanes are formed by reacting a polyol (an alcohol with more than two reactive hydroxyl groups per molecule) with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate in the presence of suitable catalysts and additives. Because a variety of diisocyanates and a wide range of polyols can be used to produce polyurethane, a broad spectrum of materials can be produced to meet the needs of specific applications.

It does not matter where you look, you are likely to find polyurethanes. Polyurethanes can be found in mattresses, couches, insulation, liquid coatings and paints, tough elastomers such as roller blade wheels, soft flexible foam toys, some elastic fibers and many other places and applications.

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History of Polyurethanes by the American Chemistry Council

Polyurethanes can be found in liquid coatings and paints, tough elastomers such as roller blade wheels, rigid insulation, soft flexible foam, elastic fiber or as an integral skin. No matter how polyurethane is transformed, the underlying chemistry is the result of one man's genius, Prof. Dr. Otto Bayer (1902-1982). Prof. Dr. Otto Bayer is recognized as the "father" of the polyurethanes industry for his invention of the basic diisocyanate polyaddition process.

The origin of polyurethane dates back to the beginning of World War II, when it was first developed as a replacement for rubber. The versatility of this new organic polymer and its ability to substitute for scarce materials spurred numerous applications. During World War II, polyurethane coatings were used for the impregnation of paper and the manufacture of mustard gas resistant garments, high-gloss airplane finishes and chemical and corrosion-resistant coatings to protect metal, wood and masonry.

By the end of the war, polyurethane coatings were being manufactured and used on an industrial scale and could be custom formulated for specific applications. By the mid-50's polyurethanes could be found in coatings and adhesives, elastomers and rigid foams. It was not until the late-50's that comfortable cushioning flexible foams were commercially available. With the development of a low-cost polyether polyol, flexible foams opened the door to the upholstery and automotive applications we know today.

Formulations, additives and processing techniques continue to be developed, such as reinforced and structural moldings for exterior automotive parts and one-component systems. Today, polyurethanes can be found in virtually everything we touch - desks, chairs, cars, clothes, footwear, appliances, beds as well as the insulation in our walls and roof and moldings on our homes.

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Polyurethane Applications by the American Chemistry Council

Heating and cooling costs amount to about 56 percent of the energy used in the average American home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The nature of the chemistry allows polyurethanes to be adapted to solve challenging problems, to be molded into unusual shapes and to enhance industrial and consumer products.

Types of Polyurethane:
bullet Flexible Polyurethane Foam
     Flexible polyurethane foam is used as cushioning for a variety of consumer and commercial products, including bedding, furniture, automotive interiors,      carpet underlay and packaging. Flexible foam can be created in almost any variety of shapes and firmness. It is light durable, supportive and comfortable.

     Flexible polyurethane foam accounts for about 30 percent of the entire North American polyurethane market and is used largely for bedding, furniture and      in the automotive industry.

bullet Rigid Polyurethane Foam
     Rigid polyurethane and polyisocyanurate (polyiso) foams create one of the world's most popuar, enery-efficient and versatile insulations. These foams can      significantly cut energy costs while making commercial and residential properties more efficient and comfortable.

     According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling account for about 56 percent of the energy used in a typical U.S. home, making it the      largest energy expense for most homes. To maintain uniform temperature and lower noise levels in homes and commercial properties, builders turn to rigid      polyurethane and polyisocyanurate foam. These foams are effective insulation materials that can be used in roof and wall insulation, insulated windows,      doors and air barrier sealants.

bullet Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants and Elastomers (CASE)
     The uses of polyurethanes in the coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE) market offer a broad and growing spectrum of appplications and
      benefits. Polyurethane coatings can enhance a product's appearance and lengthen its lifespan. Polyurethane adhesives can provide strong bonding
      advantages, while polyurethane sealants provide tighter seals. Polyurethane elastomers can be molded into almost any shape, are lighter than metal,
      offer superior stress recovery and can be resistant to many environmental factors.

bullet Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)
     Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) offers a myriad of physical property combinations and processing applications. It is highly elastic, flexible and resistant      to abrasion, impact and weather. TPUs can be colored or fabricated in a wide variety of methods and their use can increase a product's overall durability.

     TPU is an elastomer that is fully thermoplastic. Like all thermoplastic elastomers, TPU is elastic and melt-processable. In addition, it can be processed on      extrusion, injection blow and compression molding equipment. It an be vacuum-formed or solution-coated and is well suited for a wide variety of fabrication      methodologies. TPU can provide a considerable number of physical property combinations, making it an extremely flexible material adaptable to dozens of      uses such as construction, automotive and footwear.

bullet Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)
     Car bumpers, electrical housing panels and computer and telecommunication equipment enclosures are some of the parts produced with polyurethanes      using reaction injection molding (RIM). Adding design flexibility, the polyurethane RIM process produces parts that are usually not achievable using typical      injection molding processes, such as thick- and thin-walled parts, encapsulated inners and foamed cores. In addition to high strength and low weight,      polyurethane RIM parts can exhibit heat resistance, thermal insulation, dimensional stability and a high level of dynamic properties. Automotive,      construction, appliance, furniture and recreation and sporting goods are a few of the markets and applications using RIM technology.

bullet In Addition To the aforementioned applications for polyurethane,
     it is also an integral part of the following industry applications, in one form or another:

     bullet Product Binders bullet Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions (PUDs) bullet Apparel bullet Appliances bullet Automotive bullet Marine

     bullet Building and Construction bullet Composite Wood bullet Electronics bullet Flooring bullet Furnishings bullet Medical bullet Packaging

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