Author Archives: The Polyurethanes team

A Walk to Remember: Polyurethane Throughout the Ages Chapter 5: 1980’s

During a time that would come to be labeled as the period of “tailor-made-plastics,” some very specific applications of polyurethane were introduced in the 1980s. From buildings, to car safety, to surfboards, polyurethanes did not disappoint over these ten years! The music over this period wasn’t too bad either, so we’ve thrown in our favourite hits too, let us know what you think! Made of stone? It is somewhat fitting that we discuss the revolution of the construction industry during the same period that marked the fall of the Berlin wall. No, buildings were no longer made of stone, as asked by The Stone Roses in their hit song in the eighties, because polyurethane based sandwich panels transformed the construction industry. The polyurethane panels came to serve multiple purposes as they were used for insulating large facades and roofs in industrial buildings. When used as a facade, they simultaneously functioned as a design element and, together with a coloured surface treatment, gave designers great creative freedom. The sandwich panels were used in industrial and commercial construction, as well as in cold stores, warehouses, exhibition halls, sports halls, office buildings and airports. The Passenger Between 1970 and 1980, the number of vehicles on the road doubled! More and more people came to be proud car owners as in the words of Iggy Pop; “I am a passenger, and I ride and I ride.” Fortunately for Iggy, polyurethanes were working wonders in the 1980s in the automobile industry, creating energy absorbing foam … Continue reading

A Walk to Remember: Polyurethane Throughout the Ages

Chapter 4: 1970’s Enter the 1970s, the decade in which polyurethanes enriched the lives of people all over the world on so many levels! From health to sports to construction, it was a busy period for polyurethanes as our favourite material continued to grow and grow until its global consumption reached around 1.8 million tonnes by the end of the decade!             While the colourful hippie movement began to want by the early 1970s, the environmentalist movement began to thrive. Thankfully, polyurethane was there to offer the construction industry its much needed green trimmings so it could, in keeping with the times, offer consumers the much demanded greener option. It began in 1970, with the introduction of faux wood panelling in construction and design. The new material not only offered a break for the forests, but it offered consumers an equally beautiful and durable, but cheaper, option. Later, the introduction of spray building insulation brought insulation and its many environmentally friendly outcomes to a whole new level, bringing with it savings upon savings in energy and money!             Polyurethanes in the 1970s also came to be a key player in orthopaedic applications as the material brought traditional uncomfortable designs to a new level of comfort and efficacy! This, however, was only the first step in a long road of medicinal polyurethane applications to come! The pioneering work of physicians Boretos and Lyman in the early 1970s found blood to be … Continue reading

Stay Grounded with Passive House Flooring

Did you know that buildings in the EU account for more than 40% of the European Union’s energy consumption? It is a tragic state of affairs when we are told that it is our beloved homes which are cheating us of our money, as traditional building designs waste huge amounts of the energy that goes into heating them, and of course the money which goes into paying for this energy. But have no fear, polyurethanes is here to once again save the day! One of the most important applications of polyurethanes in buildings is insulation. Polyurethanes, with all its glorious qualities, can dramatically reduce heat loss in homes during the cold winter months and play an equally important role during summer in keeping buildings cool, which means less air conditioning. Sure, you might consider insulation within roofs, and maybe in wall cavities, but have you ever thought about the insulation found under your feet? Floor insulation is an equally important part of the building, and yet it is all too often dismissed! But as an integral part of the Passive House features, getting floor insulation right can make all of the difference! It is in its role in floor insulation that polyurethane truly has its shining moment as it takes the stage in not one, not two but three different forms! Firstly, we have our polyurethane boards, which comes in the form of rigid polyurethane foam of 250mm (23 mW/mK) to cover the pipes on the concrete slab. Polyurethane boards … Continue reading

Memories of the Future: Self Assembling Furniture

It is the end of the flat-pack furniture era; say goodbye to the tears and tantrums surrounding the assembly of furniture in your own home and say hello to the ultimate smart foam technology which needs no hammer… How does it work? Belgian designer and engineer Carl de Smet has been experimenting with a new kind of smart foam technology which can expand to any given design, by itself, whilst you enjoy the comforts of your own home. Using special shape memory polyurethane foam, de Smet first pours the material into a mould of the desired shape. Now this shape memory foam does exactly as advertised on the tin: after being removed from the mould, the foam retains the memory of this shape even after it’s been reheated, reshaped and compressed to about 5% of its original size! Following ‘the flattening’, as we’ll call it, you’re left with a small, packaged, piece of furniture. Not only is this easier to transport, thanks to the light weight nature of polyurethane foam, what’s more is that your new item of furniture cannot arrive to your house damaged, even after travelling the most disastrous of roads, because of the fact that the foam repairs itself by always maintaining the memory of the original programmed shape! When the nice, neatly packed parcel does finally reach your home, there’s nothing to it. The material simply needs to be heated; warming up the polyurethane foam allows it to expand into the shape of the designer’s original … Continue reading

Alternative Thinking: Transport your mind, body and soul

As kids, we were taught to think big. First it was Disney’s Aladdin that inspired us, as we dreamt of flying away on a (polyurethane) magic carpet. Yes, a whole new world was promised to us. Despite being wildly disappointed that this only existed in the world of Disney, classic movies including Back to the Future inspired us to look forward, promising hoverboards by 2015 to get us to where ever we should wish to go. Though maybe our childhood dreams were not realised exactly as we would have hoped (we still have two years), there’s no need to despair! Alternative, energy efficient, and dare we say it, super cool, means of transportation are already out there, we promise you, and we’re about to fill you in! A skateboard, with a boost Imagine an electric vehicle that can get you to work, or anywhere within a 10km radius, quickly, without traffic frustrations or petrol. Now imagine you can pick it up and carry it with you. This souped-up skateboard “with a boost” could change the face of morning commutes. It weighs less than a bicycle, can be charged off a normal wall outlet in 15 minutes, can run 1,000km on only $1 and, as if that was not enough, it uses 20 times less energy for every kilometre that you travel than a car, thus dramatically reducing your energy footprint! Where does polyurethane come in here? Well Polyurethane elastomers are used in polyurethane skateboard wheels, essential for their light weight … Continue reading

A Walk to Remember: Polyurethane Throughout the Ages: Chapter 3- The 1960’s

Chapter 3 of our walk through history takes us to the swinging 60s. So far we have discovered polyurethanes throughout the 40s and 50’s, so what more could it possibly have to offer in the 1960’s? In a decade remembered for its complex political and cultural clashes across the globe, ranging from the height of the Cold War to the British Invasion, headed by a personal favourite of ours, The Beatles, and free love to flower power, at first glance it’s not entirely clear where polyurethane actually played a role in all of this! In fact, the sixties represent an important decade for the polyurethane industry as the number of applications expanded dramatically. Growth was especially strong in sectors such as construction, appliances and automotive as polyurethane began to dominate in these industries. By the mid-1960s, the global polyurethane market was about 500 kilotonnes and by the end of the decade, it surpassed one million tonnes! Given not all of you reading this were around in the 60’s, and so you may not be too sure what was going on back then, let’s take a flying tour through history: We had our first man on the moon as the Cold War’s space race reached a new peak! (Remember we talked about polyurethane in space suits last time!) We had a cultural revolution in the West, which brought with it new fashion of every colour under the sun facilitated by our very own polyurethane material in clothes and shoes. Western Europe … Continue reading

The Hour is Now

This Saturday, 23 March at 8.30pm, Earth Hour is upon us. Hundreds of millions of people will turn off their lights for one hour, on the same night, all across the world. The World Wildlife Foundation’s annual event aims to raise awareness of the huge amounts of energy that we consume each day. WWF is not the only one with this idea. The European Union too has committed to a 20% reduction in energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas emissions, by 2020, in recognition of the unsustainable energy consumption by society today. It’s a big and scary thought and more often than not it’s easier to ignore rather than look directly in the eye. Every little bit helps, however, and you can make a difference too! We don’t just mean during Earth Hour this weekend, but starting today within your very own home! Research from McKinsey & Co indicates that if existing sustainable technologies such as solar panels, triple glazed windows or insulation were deployed to the fullest by 2020, a new home could consume around 90% less energy than it does today! The opportunity to decrease energy use can also be achieved within the existing building stock, as cuts of up to 40% could be achieved if we invest in ”greening” our homes! When looking at the cost of investment, the utilisation of these technologies is really not much to ask given that the cost of investment is almost immediately paid back thanks to the huge savings in return! But … Continue reading

End of the Iron Age

Iron horseshoes have had a distinguished presence in the lives of horses ever since the beginning, way back when horses first took the noble role of giving mankind a helping hand in both work and leisure. But all great things must come to an end to make room for bigger and better creations; enter polyurethane!  Polyurethane never ceases to amaze and make the world a better place, and this time it’s our beloved four legged friends who have an extra spring put in their step! We’re not horsing around; those in the equine fashion business call them “crocs for horses” and they come in colours ranging from neon pink to gray. Others refer to “the end of the Iron Age” whilst even more are raving about the physical and medical benefits of the new application. No matter what is being said, there is a stampede of commentary coming in. OK, we know you’re chomping at the bit to find out more so we’ll rein in the commentary and tell you what exactly we’re talking about! New plastic horse shoes have made an appearance in the equine market. In the past there have been many ways to shoe a horse, but each has had its drawbacks. Even though the traditional heavy iron or metal horse shoe has been the most popular shoe in the past, it has saddled many a horse with their fair share of problems as it requires the shoe to be physically nailed to the hoof of the … Continue reading

A Walk to Remember: Polyurethane Throughout the Ages: Chapter 2- The 1950’s

Picking up from where we left off in Chapter 1, where we discovered the role played by our favourite material in the turbulent 1940s, a glimpse into the 50s presents a very different story! Moving away from reconstruction, polyurethane’s role evolved as it became an essential part of the reintroduction of comfort and style back into the lives of those emerging from the Second World War. Polyurethanes were no longer used just to contribute where scarcity loomed, but rather adopted a role in luxury, through presenting affordable and stylish shoes and clothing, as well as home comforts. As if this wasn’t enough, polyurethane also gave a little something to one of the greatest scientific developments in world history: the Space Race! Operation transformation In the beginning of the decade, 1953 to be precise, shoe soles came to be created with synthetic leather made from polyurethane. So what did this mean? Suddenly shoes became more affordable, using a new material that was lighter and more flexible; in turn, this allowed for new styles of shoes to emerge. But that’s not all: polyurethane spandex fibres developed in the late 1950s equally revolutionised clothing, and the term “fashion” was placed back on the table for discussion after the dark 1940s. Home Comforts And what about comfort in the home? In 1954 polyurethane foam was introduced in cushions. It may not seem much to us coming from a world of comfort, where we can find polyurethane foam everywhere from our car seats to office … Continue reading

A Walk to Remember: Polyurethane Throughout the Ages: Chapter 1- The 1940’s

75 years. The wonderful composition of polyurethane has been around for 75 years, growing decade by decade to enhance your life, be it through comfort, safety or technology. But how did it all begin? To see how we’ve arrived at this point today it requires we take a journey back to whenst it first began. Chapter 1 of the polyurethanes “walk to remember” takes us to the beginning, Europe moving into the 1940s. Keep reading upcoming chapters to follow as we explore, decade by decade, the exciting path taken by our favourite material… Chapter 1: The 1940’s In a decade of turbulence and war, polyurethane managed to emerge out of the shadows of destruction to become THE innovative material of the decade, responding directly to the scarcity of natural resources post-WII. Polyurethane represented a groundbreaking material, with superior qualities of strength, yet lightness, and most importantly, versatility, which were not available in conventional rubber, plastic and metal products. At first it was not so easy as the early foams were slow and laborious to manufacture, being mainly blended in laboratories by hand. But, this didn’t stop them from achieving great things! From the end of the 1930s, when Dr. Otto Bayer first discovered basic polyurethane chemistry, the following decade saw the application of PU in aircraft, insulation and as an adhesive! Not bad for its infant days! But how did the invention and application of polyurethane make a difference? Well, when in 1940 rigid polyurethane foam was first introduced into … Continue reading