Where is it found?

Fridges and freezers

Rigid polyurethane insulating foam makes a major contribution to sustainability and eco-design by reducing the energy required to keep refrigerators and freezers cold.

Polyurethane rigid foam is the insulating material which is most widely used throughout the world for refrigerators and freezers. The insulation efficiency of polyurethane foams is a key property for the low temperature preservation of food during processing, storage and distribution to the consumer. Without polyurethane insulated refrigeration, approximately 50% percent of the world’s food would rot, heavily influencing our daily life and food related business.

Polyurethanes are ideal for the insulation of refrigerating appliances and have major advantages as they are:

  • excellent insulators
  • structurally strong thanks to the rigidity of the foam and adhesion of external skins (plastic and metal)
  • the most cost-effective manufacturing solution, with multiple operations combined into one
  • effective in confined spaces, allowing the maximum amount of food to be stored
  • safe
  • robust and strong
  • very light, thus reducing transportation costs
  • affordable, keeping the costs of refrigerators and freezers down

This means that ever more stringent energy standards can be met, with benefits to the consumer through lower energy bills and a reduction in energy used. As shown below, EU energy efficiency initiatives have resulted in considerable energy savings since 1990.

Lower energy consumption due to polyurethane use

Even when using small amounts of the material, the low thermal conductivity of polyurethanes results in excellent insulation, leaving a large useful space for the consumer. In addition, polyurethane rigid foams have a long service life. Fridges can consume up to 30% of total household electricity, so energy efficiency makes a real difference.  Because of the introduction of polyurethanes into refrigerators, models designated A++ today are 60% more efficient than refrigerators 15 years ago.

According to the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive 2002/96/EC, “white goods” such as refrigerators and freezers are subject to recovery and recycling targets across Europe. Foam from the appliances can be extracted and either recycled or used as fuel, depending on national infrastructures, further helping to conserve natural resources.

Polyurethanes thus play a crucial role in the energy-efficient transportation and preservation of our food, ensuring that it reaches our tables fit for consumption. More information on the use of polyurethanes in the cold food chain.

The graph below illustrates just how much energy has been saved in European households by the use of polyurethanes:

Polyurethanes provide outstanding design properties for fridges

Polyurethanes provide not only excellent insulation properties, but offer also outstanding design qualities.  This is because the same material – polyurethane – can be used for both refrigerator housing and insulation.  The only difference is the material’s density. Polyurethanes used for refrigerators’ doors enable the manufacturers to produce both parts with just a solid, void-free surface. Polyurethanes prove especially valuable from a design perspective, because with just one application of a surface coating the finish is impeccable. No additional post-finishing is necessary.

Applications and uses of polyurethanes

Polyurethanes are found just about everywhere in modern life; the chair you are sitting on, the bed you sleep in, the house you live in, the car you drive – all these, plus innumerable other items you use contain polyurethanes. This section explores some of the more common applications of polyurethanes and provides an insight into their use.

Building insulation

Refrigerators and freezers

Furniture and bedding



Coatings and adhesives

Other applications