Polyurethanes and energy efficiency

Probably the greatest environmental challenge we face today is climate change. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a significant increase in the consumption of natural resources, particularly in terms of non-renewable energy sources. As a result of our thirst for fossil fuels for transportation and for heating and cooling of buildings, increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are causing climate change, with a knock-on effect of disasters affecting the environment, economy and human well-being.

For a while, these issues were not so pressing, yet today they are at the forefront of every citizen and politician’s mind, along with another burning question:  how to realise the drastic cuts in CO2 emissions that are necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change? The solution is simple: reduce energy consumption by improving energy efficiency.

Reducing energy consumption is the most immediate and cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure security of energy supply. Finding ways to streamline energy use also has great potential to enhance industrial competitiveness, to create millions of jobs, reduce energy poverty and increase comfort levels.

Polyurethanes can contribute to greater energy efficiency by reducing the demand for fossil fuels in buildings, transportation and appliances.

Increased energy savings and enhanced energy efficiency in buildings can be achieved in a number of ways; polyurethane roof and wall insulation, wall and window insulation and pipe insulation all ensure that temperatures are maintained. In Europe, buildings use 40% of all energy consumed and are linked to 36% of greenhouse gas emission, so improving energy efficiency here is one solution which would bring significant results. Using polyurethanes to insulate houses is by far the most effective way of cutting down on energy use and energy waste by greatly reducing the amount of energy escaping our  homes.

In transportation, the lightweight nature of polyurethanes, combined with their versatility, strength and durability, makes them ideal for use in car seating, as coatings for car frames, in the bodies of vehicles to regulate noise and heat, and even in airbags. Their greatest benefit in terms of energy efficiency is that their use in cars and trucks leads to a reduction in vehicle weight, and therefore greater fuel economy.

In appliances, polyurethane use means that less energy is needed to power refrigerators, freezers, water heaters and other such units, which again results in considerable energy savings.

It is true that polyurethane materials will consume a finite amount of energy for their production. However, when compared to the energy savings during use, the cumulative yearly energy saving far outweighs the initial, once only, energy input. Considering that much of the “borrowed” energy of these materials can be recovered after use, the resource loop is virtually closed.

All in all, what we are left with is a real win-win situation. Lower energy consumption does not just touch on the wider issues of climate change and energy-dependency, but also on those closer to home – such as our energy bills.