Bayer MaterialScience Uses Renewable Raw Materials in Polyurethanes

The soaring prices of crude oil have sparked a debate about the benefits that increased use of renewable raw materials might bring to plastics production. Another aspect is the greater environmental compatibility attributed to products based on natural components. Industrial sugars and vegetable oils have been used for some time now in the production of polyols - one of the two basic components in polyurethanes alongside isocyanates. Bayer MaterialScience has now developed polyols based up to 70 percent by weight on renewable raw materials to help cut down emissions.

However, increasing the proportion of natural raw materials usually involves adapting the products' properties to the performance of crude-oil-based polyurethane raw materials. As the market and technology leader for polyurethanes, Bayer MaterialScience also has extensive know-how in the field of renewable raw materials and is keen to set up partnerships with interested customers. Recently, high-potential products containing higher proportions of vegetable oils have been developed. These enable the use of natural resources to supplement fossil raw materials and can help to prevent emissions when the right components and chemical process steps are selected. The company is presenting a range of exhibits with potential applications on its stand at K 2007. These are considered in greater detail below.

Polyurethane all-foam mattresses are currently very much in vogue and their market share has been rising for years. One reason for the popularity of polyurethane foam cores is undoubtedly the extensive technical developments that have taken place in the last few years. Producers of mattress cores can now choose from a previously unheard-of range of foams. In addition to familiar conventional and high-resilience (HR) grades, the emergence of viscoelastic foams has enabled highly specific properties such as pressure release and memory effects. Polyurethane mattresses are therefore popular with consumers at the high-end of the mattress segment who base their decision to buy largely on the quality and performance of the product.

Bayer MaterialScience has now developed a new cold-curing foam with a polyol component marked by its high share of renewable raw materials. The polyol is already available in industrial-scale volumes. The use of appropriate raw materials and conversion processes might lead to positive ecological effects by cutting down on petrochemical base products and emissions. However, consumers would be unwilling to accept compromises in performance or above all durability. Following extensive development work, experts from Bayer MaterialScience were able to raise the properties of the "green" foams up to the same high level as standard products. The polyurethane material not only reflects the technological leadership of the company but also displays its own outstanding versatility. At K 2007, Bayer MaterialScience also presented a molded-foam part typically used in car seats. The polyol used for this was also based largely on renewable raw materials.

Another exhibit on display is a high-end refrigerator from Liebherr. It is insulated in BaythermR polyurethane rigid foam and has attained the high energy efficiency classification A+. The proportion of renewable raw materials it uses is double that of conventional polyurethane insulating foam systems. The processing and final properties of the new foam system are identical to those of the rigid foams already available on the market for this application and in some respects surpass them. Consequently, this kind of refrigerator not only lowers energy consumption but - as a result of the materials selected - also helps climate protection.

Walking or running on a soft surface provides a more comfortable underfoot sensation. A morning jog in the forest is less tiring and much healthier than covering the same distance on an asphalt road. It's even better still to be able to walk across a "forest floor" in your own bathroom while knowing that this too is based on natural raw materials. These advantages are perfectly embodied in an artificial forest floor that Bayer MaterialScience has produced by combining a viscoelastic flexible polyurethane foam with textile overlays and a soft pile. This unique combination of materials makes for a cushioned tread that evokes the feeling of walking on a forest floor and provides inspiration for a host of applications - ranging from soft-feel bathroom accessories and fitted carpeting in exhibition halls, hotels and offices to cushioned surfaces in sports and leisure facilities. An extremely high volume of a polyol based on modified vegetable oils is used in the formulation without producing any adverse effect on technical properties such as tensile strength and durability. Bayer MaterialScience worked closely with its customers to launch the product and this new polyol is also already available in commercial quantities.

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