In this section, you will find a list of frequently asked questions from our readers. If you have a question that is not addressed below, please submit your question to our expert panel using the contact form.
Polyurethane is derived from a chemical reaction of a diisocyanate with a polyol. Once this reaction has occurred, a substance is created that is safe and extremely versatile. It can have a number of diverse properties (resilience, flexibility, rigidity), depending on the choice of combined substances.
Polyurethanes have hundreds of different uses. The material is so versatile that it can be found in anything from roof insulation to surfboards. Because of its wide range of applications, the industry is constantly coming up with new ways of using the material, so the list is always growing. Learn more about where polyurethanes can be found here.
Essentially, all polyurethanes belong to the same chemical family. They are created by means of a chemical reaction combining a diisocyanate and a polyol. There is a wide range of these two substances that can be combined, rather like a tool kit. The properties of the finished product depend on the choice of starting materials.
A summary of the key socio-economic parameters of the industry value chain, based on MDI, TDI and associated polyols, shows that it :
In addition, associated but indirect activities involve more than 71,000 companies employing about 2,040,000 people. The majority of companies in the polyurethanes industry are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Yes, polyurethanes are safe.
Polyurethanes are derived from chemicals called diisocyanates and polyols that undergo a reaction to form an inert substance – polyurethane. Substantial research has shown polyurethanes to be safe and inert.
Quite frankly, even we cannot be 100% sure! The material is so versatile that it can be found in anything from roof insulation to surfboards. As there are almost endless combinations of starting materials, the number of finished products appears to be limitless too. Because of its wide-ranging benefits, the industry is constantly coming up with new ways of using the material, so the list is always growing as polyurethanes continue to replace more traditional materials, such as metal and rubber in cars. Access our interactive tool showing some of the more common applications of the material, or learn more about where polyurethanes can be found.
Over two million tonnes of polyurethane is produced in the EU every year
Polyurethanes have been used in refrigerators since 1960.
Polyurethanes in vehicles ensure comfort, safety, and durability as well as enhanced fuel efficiency, as they are lighter than alternative materials, thereby contributing to weight reduction and lower fuel consumption. Polyurethane is also extremely effective in sound insulation.
Yes, all polyurethanes can be recycled.
However, the most environmentally sound choice may not always be recycling. Recycling requires a great deal of energy and, in some cases, the most sensible option is energy recovery. In the EU, this is achieved through clean and careful incineration, whereby pollutants are filtered out and energy is produced as a result of the combustion process.
Unfortunately this varies per country and remains rather low due to inadequate facilities provided and very high costs. The preferred option is to cleanly incinerate and recover the energy of polyurethanes.
Things are improving. EU legislation is now in place to have incineration with energy recovery.
Polyurethanes help fight climate change in a variety of ways. For example, the material is an extremely efficient insulator and, when properly applied, it can improve the energy efficiency of buildings, thereby reducing the amount of carbon emissions created by heating. Another example is the use of polyurethanes in the manufacture of vehicles. Vehicle makers are increasingly turning to polyurethanes, not only because they look good and make vehicles more comfortable, but because they are very light compared to other materials, and therefore save on fuel and decrease emissions.
In a sentence, it is sustainable because polyurethanes uses less than 0.1% of oil consumed worldwide and saves up to 100 times more.
Polyurethanes contribute to sustainability through the applications it is used for, which, like in insulation and refrigeration, contribute to the conservation of energy. The long-term durability and high performance of polyurethanes means that this material has a longer life than other alternatives, making its contribution to energy conservation higher (relative to the energy consumption for its production).
Experts estimate that insulation of buildings to optimal standards worldwide could reduce CO2 emissions by 20%. Approximately 51 million kWh of energy is saved each year in the EU by the use of polyurethane insulation.
The amount of energy used to produce enough polyurethane insulation for one house is subsequently saved in the space of just one year thanks to the insulation provided.
The lifespan of polyurethane will depend on the application and the type of use. Under normal use and regular wear and tear, we can expect a lifespan of:
Polyurethane typically exceeds the life of the product it’s being used in.
No, one of the great advantages of polyurethanes is their affordability. The reason their popularity is growing is because they have so many positive attributes, among which affordability is key. The price of polyurethanes should always be viewed relative to their performance and to what is saved during their lifetime. In terms of cost, polyurethanes are very competitive.
Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, often abbreviated to MDI, is an aromatic diisocyanate. Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is also an aromatic diisocyanate. Along with polyols, which are long alcoxyether chains, these chemicals form the building blocks of polyurethane.
There is a wide variety; the most commonly used are metal salts or amine-based catalysts.
The most commonly used today are water and pentane. In the past, CFCs might have been used, but these have now been phased out.
Phosphorous and/or halogen-containing compounds are used.
Depending on the choice of starting materials, short-term heat resistance up to 250°C can be achieved.