Love Fashion, Love the Planet!

The latest trend to hit the Parisian Champs d’Elysées comes in the form of the futuristic, transparent raincoat. A new design which allows you to weatherproof your weekend with style, come rain or shine.

Gone are the days of hiding the most beautifully assembled outfit under a heavy dark overcoat, as the Spring/Summer 2013 collection of the French fashion line, Wanda Nylon, allows us to show off our clothing whilst wearing a contemporary and chic coat.

Wanda Nylon “loves this planet” and is dedicated to water protection and the environment. For this reason, the fashion line’s products are made of recyclable materials. Our favourite transparent PVC trench coat from Wanda Nylon is no exception, as the coat is made out of 100% recyclable polyurethane, keeping both you and the environment looking great!

Want to find out more about the role of polyurethane in the fashion industry? Check out another fashion blog post here!

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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 for passenger safety in cars. The production of more economical and flexible molds of polyurethane was ideal for the application of polyurethanes in cars, as the shock absorbing qualities and high resilience of polyurethane foams ensured the safety of drivers and passengers under static and dynamic conditions.

Everybody loves Surfing, Surfing USA
The Beach Boys were truly far ahead of their time when they sang Surfing USA in 1963 because it wasn’t until 1981 when surfboards came to be revolutionized and produced with 100% polyurethane foam. Before this, surfboards were originally made out of a solid wood and were large and heavy, even reaching weights of up to 45 kilos! In contrast, polyurethane boards were much lighter and responsive, and, most importantly, they were much cheaper. This was a big technological leap, which revolutionised the surfing industry and its culture. The invention decreased the price of surfboards dramatically, allowing more and more American youngsters to catch waves. Today, polyurethane remains the most widespread material used to make surfboards!

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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 compatible with polyurethane-urea polymers. These elastomer materials have since been widely used for biomedical applications such as the artificial heart, intra-aortic balloons, pacemaker leads, heart valves, and hemodialysis membranes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might be surprised to know that roller skates have been around for quite some time. In fact, the first recorded use of roller skates was in a London stage performance in 1743! However, it is undisputable that they have come a very long way since! Though the inventor of the original skate is unknown, we do know that it was in 1973 when thermoplastic polyurethane wheels improved and popularised roller skates so that today we can enjoy roller skating as a recreational activity, a sport, and also a form of transportation (link to alternative transport blog)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1972 Summer Olympics, held in Munich, West Germany, were only the second Summer Olympics to be held in Germany after the 1936 Games in Berlin, which had taken place under the Nazi regime.  Mindful of the connection, the West German Government was anxious to take the opportunity of the Munich Olympics to present a new, democratic and prosperous Germany to the world. With this in mind, the Olympic Park was designed by German architect Günther Behnisch and engineer Frei Otto, becoming a landmark of both the games and Munich today. At the heart of the park stood the Olympic Stadium, the scale of which was considered revolutionary at the time. To top this off, polyurethanes were also used for track surfacing at the Olympic Stadium, introduced in the 1970s as the ultimate athletic surface for being weather resistant, abrasion resistant and strong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1977, Polyurethane ‘Forcefin’ flippers were designed, revolutionising underwater activities by improving the diver’s speed and agility. The new design of fins was inspired by observations of nature in the sea, and fish themselves, which have split fins with great manoeuvrability. Polyurethane was selected as the material as choice, as the rigid plastic allowed the necessary “snap and flex” mechanism essential to augment and amplify the movements of the leg and foot.

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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!

A Picture of our Polyurethanes Passive Houe as used by the Commission to Promote EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW)

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 allow an even thickness of insulation, higher insulating performances and allows for the direct application of floor finishing (which could also be a nice polyurethane laminate, or polyurethane faux-wood material by the way!). The very low thermal conductivity of polyurethane boards and optimal airtightness allow minimum heat loss. Overall the expected U-value of the ground floor will be extremely low (0.1 W/m2K).

        The second type of polyurethane foam we find ourselves presented with is polyurethane spray foam (27 mW/mK), which is applied directly between the concrete slab and floor finishing. We also use polyurethane “one component foam” to fill those gaps, making all the difference in the floor’s insulation and your energy bill.

          What could possibly follow next? Finally, we have a special mortar made of 90% recycled polyurethane granulates which is applied below the polyurethane boards (23 mW/mK) to cover the pipes on the concrete slab.

            All three were recently installed at our very own Passive House in Brussels, Belgium on Monday, 15 April. The idea behind using all three, rather than applying the same type of polyurethane floor insulation on each level, was to showcase the benefits that polyurethane insulation provide no matter what route you take! So there you have it; the solution to cost and energy savings could be right in front (or should we say below) you!

            Be sure to keep up with the latest developments of our Polyurethane Passive house on our website here and on Pinterest here!

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            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 mould. A few minutes later, the chair has cooled, et voila, it’s ready to make your life more comfortable. Impressive, no?

            When can you get your hands on it?

            After ten years of work, de Smet’s design was formally unveiled at this week’s Milan Design Week festival. Though he is currently working with scaled-down models, de Smet will soon use this amazing technology to achieve the same effect with full-size furniture. If all goes as planned, according to de Smet, shape memory polyurethane foam furniture could decorate your home in about a year’s time!

            Alternative applications?

            While the idea of applying this technology to furniture is exciting enough as it is it doesn’t end there. The possibilities for using this innovative polyurethane foam are seemingly endless: de Smet hinted that he is already in talks with the automotive sector about incorporating the new material. Even more inspiring, the foam could be used in creating essential goods needed by people struck by natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes – shape memory foam items could easily be dropped by plane and remain undamaged! It may be early days but we’re excited! Watch this space!

            Don’t believe us? Check out the video for yourself here:

            YouTube Preview Image
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            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 yet durable and abrasion resistant qualities. Find out more by checking out this video by creator Sanjay Dastoor on Ted Talks:

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            Electric cars

            Electric cars, powered by, you guessed it, electricity, offer a “green” driving experience through being more energy efficient than traditional cars, being environmentally friendly with no tailpipe pollutants and, last but not least, by reducing energy dependence.

            Polyurethane automotive applications play a huge role in electric cars, as their light weight, yet durable properties, are perfect for improving the overall environmental efficiency of the car without compromising on comfort and safety.

            Asides from getting that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with being an eco-warrior, more and more people are joining the bandwagon because of the promise of lower costs and less maintenance among other performance benefits. With current grants schemes in support of “green” cars and talks of rewarding drivers with free parking, there are really enough incentives on the table to join the movement!

            Zorbing

            Zorbing is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb made of two layers of polyurethane plastic. Alternative, check. Energy efficient, check. Inspired by hamster balls, zorbing is generally performed on a gentle slope, but can also be rolled on a level surface. It may not be the transport of the future but it’s another application of polyurethane which deserves a mention because it does get you somewhere!

            Walking

            In some cultures walking is the “alternative” thing to do, as demonstrated in the 2010 “National Bicycle and Walking Study” by the US Department of Transportation which found that 72% of trips that are less than three miles are made by vehicles. Short distances can be easily done by foot rather than by car, but only 25% of Americans choose walking as their means of transportation. So, put down the car keys, lace up your polyurethane walking shoes and prepare yourself for a cost free, carbon free and healthy commuting experience: walking.

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            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 and the US continued to grow as cities became constructed into how we now know them today; this construction was made possible with polyurethane steel sandwich building panels. This fast and formidable growth of one side of the world fuelled the division between East and West during the Cold War, clearly distinguished by the differences between either side of the Berlin Wall!

            Plastic fantastic gadgets came into fashion during this time as invention after invention rolled into the consumer market. To name but a few; first it was the pocket sized transistor radio, then the first hand held calculator, the first cassette tape recorder, binoculars, the Trimphone (the nearest thing you could get to a mobile phone in the sixties with its stretchable curly cord which meant you could carry it around parties!), and the introduction of instant photography! Can you say hipster? Many of these inventions- the radio, the household phone, instant photography- all massively contributed to communication and media too! This meant that it was one of the first times that nations could really understand what was going on in the rest of the world; one of the big inspirations of the flower fueled hippy movement which called for the end of the US presence in the Cold War driven Vietnam War.

            As society moved further and further away from the dark shadow of the Second World War, so too did their luxuries and comforts. Cars were no longer a luxury item, as they become common place in many homes. This was made possible with the first plastic car in 1967,  a rejection of the 1950s styling excess, as the automobile industry grew and began producing  cars of different size classes for the first time, making them accessible to all!. Later, in 1969, polyurethane played a new role in the automobile industry again, as bumpers were introduced to cars, improving their safety.

            So there you have it, another busy decade for polyurethanes in technology, gadgets, fashion, construction and cars! Don’t forget to read our next “chapters” as we look at polyurethane throughout the ages…

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            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 what does it mean to invest in energy saving technologies for your home? One approach taken has been with the Passive House movement which introduced a new era of construction design founded on the idea of low energy buildings and “sustainable development.” The Passive House is defined as a building which in the Central European climate has a negligible heating energy requirement, and therefore needs no active heating. Such houses can be kept warm “passively” using only existing internal heat sources, solar energy admitted through the windows and by heating the fresh air supply (Find out more about the ventilation system of a Passive House in this video here.)

            Put simply:

            • A Passive House can use up to 85% less energy than a conventional building!
            • A Passive House only requires the capacity of an iron to maintain comfortable warmth throughout the winter!
            • Simple features including high performance insulation, windows and ventilation make all the difference in a Passive House!

            There are already about 12,000 passive houses in Europe, and in fact our very own Polyurethanes Passive House, currently in the process of construction, will add to this growing energy savings trend (You can check out its progress here).

            No matter why you’re doing it,  whether or not it is incentivised by the urge to be greener, to redesign your home, or to cut down electricity costs, it’s worth it and it all comes down to one thing: energy savings for a happier home, environment and wallet! So what’s stopping you from taking the next step and making your home green?

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            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 horse. The potential  trauma and pain is avoided, however, with this new “slip on” plastic hoof shoe, which is glued onto the horses’ hooves thus makes nailing horseshoes a thing of the past.

            The new creation did reportedly stirrup some feelings of excitement amongst the veterinarian community, not because of the shoes’ style and comfort but manely due to the fact the shoes also are an effective means of applying treatment and medicated creams in a way that they work effectively on the horse’s hoof!

            But why the long face? Don’t worry, this does not mean the end of the long tradition of farriers and an unbridled disaster for the farrier industry which shoes horses , as many European countries legally require the shoe to be installed professionally.

            It remanes to be seen if the new creation catches on everywhere, but there’s lots of interest in the arena and our bet is that it won’t fall at the first fence but rather cross the finish line…

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            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 chairs, but this revolutionary concept brought luxury into every living room and household, boldly raising living standards across Europe and the US following the difficult 1940s.

             

            A Race to Space

            Now you cannot write about the 1950s without mentioning the beginnings of the Space Race. Anyone who knows their history knows that out of the Second World War emerged an equally tension-filled conflict: the Cold War. One of the many consequences that emerged from the Cold War was the Space Race, as the US and the USSR competed to reach the finish line first and send their men first into space. Where on earth does polyurethane come into the picture here? Well in 1959 space suits with polyurethane lining were developed by NASA for the Mercury mission, the first ever human space flight from the US! These polyurethane-lined suits allowed ultimate safety for the astronaut’s mission, as the flexible material could be tailor made to fit each individual astronaut perfectly and the light weight material allowed ease of movement in the toughest conditions!

            All in all, it was a busy decade for polyurethanes as the material brought living standards away from the dark 1940s and forward in leaps and bounds towards comfort, style and even science! Don’t forget to check out the next “Polyurethane throughout the ages” post to discover what polyurethanes had to offer the 1960s…

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