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Industry innovation: CO2 Polyurethane

Polyurethane News

In our blog series, we frequently explore the numerous types of industry innovation underway across a range of sectors. Foam is used in a huge range of applications, and as such, the exciting developments we are seeing in the space range from international collaborative projects to unique creative solutions.

One of the most interesting developments we have seen as of late is an innovation by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany who have discovered a process to make polyurethane foam using carbon dioxide and recycled materials. In all, the development has enabled researchers to produce the foam we use and love in a range of applications in a far more sustainable way. The process avoids the use of isocyanates, a material that can be toxic without proper regulated management and disposal. This therefore offers a safer production method and achieves what is termed ‘biocompatibility’ – in other words, a far more sustainable and environmentally friendly product.

For those working in foam production where manufacturing warehouses are operating without proper environmental measures in place, the use of traditional isocyanates can pose several occupational risks known as hazardous exposures. These include lung problems, eye, nose and throat irritations, and other carcinogenic impacts. Likewise, without responsible disposal measures, these same isocyanates can have a detrimental impact on the environment too. The work of the Fraunhofer Institute eliminates this worry entirely, making a huge step towards an increasingly eco-friendly foam production process.

Polyurethane foam news

The Institute determined a new process which sees the use of dicarbamate used in place of isocyanates, and it requires both incredibly high temperatures and considerable pressure to successfully complete. The next aim for the researchers is to determine how this process can be optimised further, ensuring it is an efficient and industrially feasible process that takes running costs into account. As an extension of their existing project, the team at the Fraunhofer Institute is also set to experiment with a range of additional agents in place of dicarbamate to see whether alternative materials are suitable to produce biocompatible polyurethanes.

In addition to replacing isocyanates, the research team also went one step further to improve the sustainability element of their work by not using fossil fuels in the production process. Where oils and natural gases are typically used as a carbon source when producing polyurethane, the Fraunhofer Institute successfully used carbon dioxide and polyurethane recyclates instead. According to project co-ordinator Dr Christoph Herfurth, this method ensures that the carbon used is recycled and a lower amount of carbon dioxide is consequently released into the atmosphere.

The brilliant work of the researchers was promoted at the Medica event in Düsseldorf between 15th – 18th November.

Our goal is to be the UK’s most sustainable foam supplier, and we’re proud that our initiatives are working towards reducing emissions from our production processes.

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