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Polyurethane: A Bright And Green Future

Aug 11, 2020

Econic Technologies' Catalyst Development Scientist Dr. Anthea Blackburn wrote a report for BP&R on how new technological developments can provide an exciting future for the polyurethane industry.

  From the perspective of science and technology, 2017 is a crucial year. It marks the 25th anniversary of the sending of the first text message; the 75th anniversary of the completion of the first nuclear chain reactor; and the 150th anniversary of the patenting of explosives. Although the 80th anniversary of the discovery of polyurethane is hidden in these milestones, it is also of great significance.

  Otto Bayer and his team discovered that the polycondensation that occurs during the preparation of polyurethane reflects the great significance of the future, and explored synthetic and cheaper materials to replace rubber. Similarly, when DuPont produced the first commercially available insulating rigid foam in 1948, the potential of the new product may not have been fully recognized. Nevertheless, the development of polyurethane has had a far-reaching and long-term impact after leaving the laboratory, and it may be a consumer necessity that most people do not know.

   For example, as early as the end of the Second World War, polyurethane had been mass-produced for protective coatings. The rapid development in this field has made significant progress in polyurethane applications, and many companies around the world are committed to development-by 2019, the total revenue is expected to reach 54.2 billion US dollars. Over time, we have seen polyurethane applications in a variety of fields—from beer barrel insulation, shoe soles, spandex and space suit linings to surfboards, footballs, FDA-approved artificial hearts and swimwear.

   The polyurethane industry has flourished in the past 80 years, what will the future look like? In short, the future is bright-the future is green.

  A green alternative material

  The challenge of climate change—and the subsequent social and political pressures—has prompted manufacturers to unanimously promote emissions reductions and reduce the environmental footprint of heavy petrochemical and volatile organic compounds used in polyurethane manufacturing. In the end, the change also provides more economic benefits by using a cheaper and natural material to replace expensive raw materials. In the past ten years, sustainable polyols made from various plant and bio-based materials have been introduced into the industry. Although it is moving in the right direction, these raw materials are essentially dependent on seasons and weather, so we must also consider the regulatory and ethical issues of transferring agricultural factors from food sources, which may hinder the entry of this technology into developing countries . Therefore, if waste materials from other industrial production processes can be used as raw materials for polyol synthesis, the problem may be solved. One such chemical immediately came to mind: carbon dioxide.

   Therefore, scientists and polyurethane manufacturers around the world are exploring ways to use carbon dioxide. One of the important developments is to use it as a catalyst to promote mixing with polyols. This new technology can not only replace large amounts of oil-based raw materials with carbon dioxide, it can also avoid further carbon emissions-thereby saving money and protecting the planet. In addition, the advantage of carbon dioxide-containing polyurethane is that it can enhance the flame retardancy of rigid foam and improve the chemical resistance, heat resistance and hydrolysis resistance of coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers.

  From scrap to raw material

  These catalyst technologies have the potential to convert carbon dioxide from hazardous waste into valuable raw materials for the polyurethane industry. At Econic Technologies, we have taken a step further: the company's pioneering adjustable catalyst allows customers to choose the amount of carbon dioxide to be combined and determine the characteristics of the resulting polyol. In addition, these polymerization reactions can be carried out under much lower pressure than other similar systems, so customers can apply the refurbished technology to existing assets, and it is expected that they will be rewarded within two years.

   can reduce 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year-equivalent to the emissions of 6 million cars on the road-our catalyst technology as part of the reform to add important value to the carbon circular economy, fundamentally reshape the modern plastic manufacturing industry. On the occasion of celebrating the 80th birthday of Polyurethane, we are confidently looking forward to a bright and green future.