Polyurethanes are in the class of compounds called reaction polymers, which include epoxies, unsaturated polyesters, and phenolics. A urethane linkage is produced by reacting an isocyanate group, -N=C=O with a hydroxyl (alcohol) group, -OH. Polyurethanes are produced by the polyaddition reaction of a polyisocyanate with a polyalcohol (polyol) in the presence of a catalyst and other additives. In this case, a polyisocyanate is a molecule with two or more isocyanate functional groups, R-(N=C=O)n ≥ 2 and a polyol is a molecule with two or more hydroxyl functional groups, R'-(OH)n ≥ 2. The reaction product is a polymer containing the urethane linkage, -RNHCOOR'-. Isocyanates will react with any molecule that contains an active hydrogen. Importantly, isocyanates react with water to form a urea linkage and carbon dioxide gas; they also react with polyetheramines to form polyureas. Commercially, polyurethanes are produced by reacting a liquid isocyanate with a liquid blend of polyols, catalyst, and other additives. These two components are referred to as a polyurethane system, or simply a system. The isocyanate is commonly referred to in North America as the 'A-side' or just the 'iso'. The blend of polyols and other additives is commonly referred to as the 'B-side' or as the 'poly'. This mixture might also be called a 'resin' or 'resin blend'. In Europe the meanings for 'A-side' and 'B-side' are reversed. Resin blend additives may include chain extenders, cross linkers, surfactants, flame retardants, blowing agents, pigments, and fillers.
The first essential component of a polyurethane polymer is the isocyanate. Molecules that contain two isocyanate groups are called diisocyanates. These molecules are also referred to as monomers or monomer units, since they themselves are used to produce polymeric isocyanates that contain three or more isocyanate functional groups. Isocyanates can be classed as aromatic, such as diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI) or toluene diisocyanate (TDI); or aliphatic, such as hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) or isophorone diisocyanate (IPDI). An example of a polymeric isocyanate is polymeric diphenylmethane diisocyanate, which is a blend of molecules with two-, three-, and four- or more isocyanate groups, with an average functionality of 2.7. Isocyanates can be further modified by partially reacting them with a polyol to form a prepolymer. A quasi-prepolymer is formed when the stoichiometric ratio of isocyanate to hydroxyl groups is greater than 2:1. A true prepolymer is formed when the stoichiometric ratio is equal to 2:1. Important characteristics of isocyanates are their molecular backbone, % NCO content, functionality, and viscosity.
The second essential component of a polyurethane polymer is the polyol. Molecules that contain two hydroxyl groups are called diols, those with three hydroxyl groups are called triols, et cetera. In practice, polyols are distinguished from short chain or low-molecular weight glycol chain extenders and cross linkers such as ethylene glycol (EG), 1,4-butanediol (BDO), diethylene glycol (DEG), glycerine, and trimethylol propane (TMP). Polyols are polymers in their own right. They are formed by base-catalyzed addition of propylene oxide (PO), ethylene oxide (EO) onto a hydroxyl or amine containing initiator, or by polyesterification of a di-acid, such as adipic acid, with glycols, such as ethylene glycol or dipropylene glycol (DPG). Polyols extended with PO or EO are polyether polyols. Polyols formed by polyesterification are polyester polyols. The choice of initiator, extender, and molecular weight of the polyol greatly affect its physical state, and the physical properties of the polyurethane polymer. Important characteristics of polyols are their molecular backbone, initiator, molecular weight, % primary hydroxyl groups, functionality, and viscosity.
One of the most desirable attributes of polyurethanes is their ability to be turned into foam. Blowing agents such as water, certain halocarbons such as HFC-245fa (1,1,1,3,3-pentafluoropropane) and HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), and hydrocarbons such as n-pentane, can be incorporated into the poly side or added as an auxiliary stream. Water reacts with the isocyanate to create carbon dioxide gas, which fills and expands cells created during the mixing process. The reaction is a three step process. A water molecule reacts with an isocyanate group to form a carbamic acid. Carbamic acids are unstable, and decompose forming carbon dioxide and an amine. The amine reacts with more isocyanate to give a substituted urea. Water has a very low molecular weight, so even though the weight percent of water may be small, the molar proportion of water may be high and considerable amounts of urea produced. The urea is not very soluble in the reaction mixture and tends to form separate "hard segment" phases consisting mostly of polyurea. The concentration and organization of these polyurea phases can have a significant impact on the properties of the polyurethane foam. Halocarbons and hydrocarbons are chosen such that they have boiling points at or near room temperature. Since the polymerization reaction is exothermic, these blowing agents volatilize into a gas during the reaction process. They fill and expand the cellular polymer matrix, creating a foam. It is important to know that the blowing gas does not create the cells of a foam. Rather, foam cells are a result of blowing gas diffusing into bubbles that are nucleated or stirred into the system at the time of mixing. In fact, high density microcellular foams can be formed without the addition of blowing agents by mechanically frothing or nucleating the polyol component prior to use.
Surfactants are used to modify the characteristics of the polymer during the foaming process. They are used to emulsify the liquid components, regulate cell size, and stabilize the cell structure to prevent collapse and surface defects. Rigid foam surfactants are designed to produce very fine cells and a very high closed cell content. Flexible foam surfactants are designed to stabilize the reaction mass while at the same time maximizing open cell content to prevent the foam from shrinking. The need for surfactant can be affected by choice of isocyanate, polyol, component compatibility, system reactivity, process conditions and equipment, tooling, part shape, and shot weight.
Phosgenation of corresponding amines is the main technical process for the manufacture of isocyanates. The amine raw materials are generally manufactured by the hydrogenation of corresponding nitro compounds. For example, toluenediamine (TDA) is manufactured from dinitrotoluene, which then converted to toluene diisocyanate (TDI). Diamino diphenylmethane or methylenedianiline (MDA) is manufactured from nitrobenzene via aniline, which is then converted to diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI).
The two most important aromatic isocyanates are toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI). TDI consists of a mixture of the 2,4- and 2,6-diisocyanatotoluene isomers. The most important product is TDI-80 (TD-80), consisting of 80% of the 2,4-isomer and 20% of the 2,6-isomer. This blend is used extensively in the manufacture of polyurethane flexible slabstock and molded foam. TDI, and especially crude TDI and TDI/MDI blends can be used in rigid foam applications, but have been supplanted by polymeric MDI. TDI-polyether and TDI-polyester prepolymers are used in high performance coating and elastomer applications. Prepolymers are available that have been vacuum stripped of TDI monomer, which greatly reduces their toxicity. Diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI) has three isomers, 4,4'-MDI, 2,4'-MDI, and 2,2'-MDI, and is also polymerized to provide oligomers of functionality three and higher.
Only the 4,4'-MDI monomer is sold commercially as a single isomer. It is provided either as a frozen solid or flake, or in molten form, and is used to manufacture high performance prepolymers. Monomer blends, consisting of approximately 50% of the 4,4'-isomer and 50% of the 2,4'-isomer, are liquid at room temperature and are used to manufacture prepolymers for polyurea spray elastomer applications. 4,4'-MDI blends containing MDI uretonimine, carbodiimide, and allophonate moieties are also liquid at room temperature, and are used in the manufacture of integral skin and microcellular foams. 4,4'-MDI-glycol prepolymers offer increased mechanical properties in the same applications, but are prone to freezing at temperatures below 20°C. Polymeric MDI (PMDI) is used in rigid pour-in-place, spray foam, and molded foam applications. Polymeric MDI that contains a very high portion of high-functionality oligomers is used to manufacture polyurethane and polyisocyanurate rigid insulation boardstock. Modified PMDI, which contains high levels of MDI monomer, is used in the production of polyurethane flexible molded and microcellular foam. The relative percentage of the 4,4'- and 2,4'- isomers is adjusted to change the reactivity and storage stability of the isocyanate blend, as well as the firmness and other physical properties of the finished goods. Other aromatic isocyanate include p-phenylene diisocyante (PPDI), naphthalene diisocyanate (NDI), and o-tolidine diisocyanate (TODI).
The most important aliphatic and cycloaliphatic isocyanates are 1,6-hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI), 1-isocyanato-3-isocyanatomethyl-3,5,5-trimethyl-cyclohexane (isophorone diisocyanate, IPDI), and 4,4'-diisocyanato dicyclohexylmethane (H12MDI). They are used to produce light stable, non-yellowing polyurethane coatings and elastomers. Because of their toxicity, aliphatic isocyanate monomers are converted into prepolymers, biurets, dimers, and trimers for commercial use. HDI adducts are used extensively for weather and abrasion resistant coatings and lacquers. IPDI is used in the manufacture of coatings, elastomeric adhesives and sealants. H12MDI prepolymers are used to produce high performance coatings and elastomers with optical clarity and hydrolysis resistance. Other aliphatic isocyanates include cyclohexane diisocyanate (CHDI), tetramethylxylene diisocyanate (TMXDI), and 1,3-bis(isocyanatomethyl)cyclohexane (H6XDI).
Polyether polyols come in a wide variety of grades based on their end use, but are all constructed in a similar manner. Polyols for flexible applications use low functionality initiators such as dipropylene glycol (f=2) or glycerine (f=3). Polyols for rigid applications use high functionality initiators such sucrose (f=8), sorbitol (f=6), toluenediamine (f=4), and Mannich bases (f=4). Propylene oxide is then added to the initiators until the desired molecular weight is achieved. Polyols extended with propylene oxide are terminated with secondary hydroxyl groups. In order to change the compatibility, rheological properties, and reactivity of a polyol, ethylene oxide is used as a co-reactant to create random or mixed block heteropolymers. Polyols capped with ethylene oxide contain a high percentage of primary hydroxyl groups, which are more reactive than secondary hydroxyl groups. Because of their high viscosity (470 OH# sucrose polyol, 33,000 cps at 25°C), carbohydrate initiated polyols often use glycerine or diethylene glycol as a co-initiate in order to lower the viscosity to ease handling and processing (490 OH# sucrose-glycerine polyol, 5,500 cps at 25°C). Graft polyols (also called filled polyols or polymer polyols) contain finely dispersed styrene-acrylonitrile, acrylonitrile, or polyurea (PHD) polymer solids chemically grafted to a high molecular weight polyether backbone. They are used to increase the load bearing properties of low density high-resiliency (HR) foam, as well as add toughness to microcellular foams and cast elastomers. PHD polyols are also used to modify the combustion properties of HR flexible foam. Solids content ranges from 14% to 50%, with 22% and 43% being typical. Initiators such as ethylenediamine and triethanolamine are used to make low molecular weight rigid foam polyols that have built-in catalytic activity due to the presence of nitrogen atoms in the backbone. They are used to increase system reactivity and physical property build, and to reduce the friability of rigid foam molded parts. A special class of polyether polyols, poly(tetramethylene ether) glycols are made by polymerizing tetrahydrofuran. They are used in high performance coating and elastomer applications.
Polyester polyols fall into two distinct categories according to composition and application. Conventional polyester polyols are based on virgin raw materials and are manufactured by the direct polyesterification of high-purity diacids and glycols, such as adipic acid and 1,4-butanediol. They are distinguished by the choice of monomers, molecular weight, and degree of branching. While costly and difficult to handle because of their high viscosity, they offer physical properties not obtainable with polyether polyols, including superior solvent, abrasion, and cut resistance. Other polyester polyols are based on reclaimed raw materials. They are manufactured by transesterification (glycolysis) of recycled poly(ethyleneterephthalate) (PET) or dimethylterephthalate (DMT) distillation bottoms with glycols such as diethylene glycol. These low molecular weight, aromatic polyester polyols are used in the manufacture of rigid foam, and bring low cost and excellent flammability characteristics to polyisocyanurate (PIR) boardstock and polyurethane spray foam insulation.
Specialty polyols include polycarbonate polyols, polycaprolactone polyols, polybutadiene polyols, and polysulfide polyols. The materials are used in elastomer, sealant, and adhesive applications that require superior weatherability, and resistance to chemical and environmental attack. Natural oil polyols derived from castor oil and other vegetable oils are used to make elastomers, flexible bunstock, and flexible molded foam.
|hydroxyl compounds – difunctional molecules|
|MW||s.g.||f.p. °C||b.p. °C|
|hydroxyl compounds – trifunctional molecules|
|MW||s.g.||f.p. °C||b.p. °C|
|hydroxyl compounds – tetrafunctional molecules|
|MW||s.g.||f.p. °C||b.p. °C|
|amine compounds – difunctional molecules|
|MW||s.g.||f.p. °C||b.p. °C|
Organometallic compounds based on mercury, lead, tin (dibutyltin dilaurate), bismuth (bismuth octanoate), and zinc are used as polyurethane catalysts. Mercury carboxylates, such as phenylmercuric neodeconate, are particularly effective catalysts for polyurethane elastomer, coating and sealant applications, since they are very highly selective towards the polyol+isocyanate reaction. Mercury catalysts can be used at low levels to give systems a long pot life while still giving excellent back-end cure. Lead catalysts are used in highly reactive rigid spray foam insulation applications, since they maintain their potency in low-temperature and high-humidity conditions. Due to their toxicity and the necessity to dispose of mercury and lead catalysts and catalyzed material as hazardous waste in the United States, formulators have been searching for suitable replacements. Since the 1990s, bismuth and zinc carboxylates have been used as alternatives but have short comings of their own. In elastomer applications, long pot life systems do not build green strength as fast as mercury catalyzed systems. In spray foam applications, bismuth and zinc do not drive the front end fast enough in cold weather conditions and must be otherwise augmented to replace lead. Alkyl tin carboxylates, oxides and mercaptides oxides are used in all types of polyurethane applications. For example, dibutyltin dilaurate is a standard catalyst for polyurethane adhesives and sealants, dioctyltin mercaptide is used in microcellular elastomer applications, and dibutyltin oxide is used in polyurethane paint and coating applications. Tin mercaptides are used in formulations that contain water, as tin carboxylates are susceptible to degradation from hydrolysis.
Though the properties of the polyurethane are determined mainly by the choice of polyol, the diisocyanate exerts some influence, and must be suited to the application. The cure rate is influenced by the functional group reactivity and the number of functional isocyanate groups. The mechanical properties are influenced by the functionality and the molecular shape. The choice of diisocyanate also affects the stability of the polyurethane upon exposure to light. Polyurethanes made with aromatic diisocyanates yellow with exposure to light, whereas those made with aliphatic diisocyanates are stable.
Softer, elastic, and more flexible polyurethanes result when linear difunctional polyethylene glycol segments, commonly called polyether polyols, are used to create the urethane links. This strategy is used to make spandex elastomeric fibers and soft rubber parts, as well as foam rubber. More rigid products result if polyfunctional polyols are used, as these create a three-dimensional cross-linked structure which, again, can be in the form of a low-density foam.
An even more rigid foam can be made with the use of specialty trimerization catalysts which create cyclic structures within the foam matrix, giving a harder, more thermally stable structure, designated as polyisocyanurate foams. Such properties are desired in rigid foam products used in the construction sector.
Careful control of viscoelastic properties — by modifying the catalysts and polyols used —can lead to memory foam, which is much softer at skin temperature than at room temperature.
There are then two main foam variants: one in which most of the foam bubbles (cells) remain closed, and the gas(es) remains trapped, the other being systems which have mostly open cells, resulting after a critical stage in the foam-making process (if cells did not form, or became open too soon, foam would not be created). This is a vitally important process: if the flexible foams have closed cells, their softness is severely compromised, they become pneumatic in feel, rather than soft; so, generally speaking, flexible foams are required to be open-celled.
The opposite is the case with most rigid foams. Here, retention of the cell gas is desired since this gas (especially the fluorocarbons referred to above) gives the foams their key characteristic: high thermal insulation performance.
A third foam variant, called microcellular foam, yields the tough elastomeric materials typically experienced in the coverings of car steering wheels and other interior automotive components.
Liquid resin blends and isocyanates may contain hazardous or regulated components. They should be handled in accordance with manufacturer recommendations found on product labels, and in MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) and product technical literature. Isocyanates are known skin and respiratory sensitizers, and proper engineering controls should be in place to prevent exposure to isocyanate liquid and vapor.
In the United States, additional health and safety information can be found through organizations such as the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association (PMA) and the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI), as well as from polyurethane system and raw material manufacturers. In Europe, health and safety information is available from ISOPA, the European Diisocyanate and Polyol Producers Association. Regulatory information can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (Food and Drugs) and Title 40 (Protection of the Environment).
The precursors of expanding polyurethane foam are available in many forms, for use in insulation, sound deadening, flotation, industrial coatings, packing material, and even cast-in-place upholstery padding. Since they adhere to most surfaces and automatically fill voids, they have become quite popular in these applications.
The following table shows how polyurethanes are used (US data from 2004):.
|Application||Amount of polyurethane used (millions of pounds)||Percentage of total|
|Building & Construction||1,459||26.8%|
|Furniture & Bedding||1,127||20.7%|
|Textiles, Fibers & Apparel||181||3.3%|
|Machinery & Foundry||178||3.3%|
Unlike drying oils and alkyds which cure, after evaporation of the solvent, upon reaction with oxygen from the air, polyurethane coatings cure after evaporation of the solvent by a variety of reactions of chemicals within the original mix, or by reaction with moisture from the air. Certain products are "hybrids" and combine different aspects of their parent components. "Oil-modified" polyurethanes, whether water-borne or solvent-borne, are currently the most widely used wood floor finishes.
Exterior use of polyurethane varnish may be problematic due to its susceptibility to deterioration through ultra-violet light exposure. It must be noted, however, that all clear or transluscent varnishes, and indeed all film-polymer coatings (i.e.paint, stain, epoxy, synthetic plastic, etc.) are susceptible to this damage in varying degrees. Pigments in paints and stains protect against UV damage, while UV-absorbers are added to polyurethane and other varnishes (in particular "spar" varnish) to work against UV damage. Polyurethanes are typically the most resistant to water exposure, high humidity, temperature extremes, and fungus or mildew, which also adversely affect varnish and paint performance.
Much of the foam used in chairs (including beanbag chairs), couches, mattresses is polyurethane foam. This type of foam is made by mixing polyols, diisocyanates, catalysts, blowing agents and other additives and allowing the resulting foam to rise freely. This can be done in a batch process where relatively small blocks of foam are made in an open-topped mold, or continuously where the components are poured onto an inclined moving belt. The foam is then cut to the desired shape and size for use in making furniture. Safety concerns about the flammability of polyurethane foam, particularly in upholstered furniture, sometimes requires the addition of flame retardants to this foam.
Polyurethane is used for flooring in houses, offices and public areas.
Polyurethanes are used to make automobile seats in a remarkable manner. The seat manufacturer has a mold for each seat model. The mold is a closeable "clamshell" sort of structure that will allow quick casting of the seat cushion, so-called molded flexible foam, which is then upholstered after removal from the mold.
It is possible to combine these two steps, so-called in-situ, foam-in-fabric or direct moulding. A complete, fully-assembled seat cover is placed in the mold and held in place by vacuum drawn through small holes in the mold. Sometimes a thin pliable plastic film backing on the fabric is used to help the vacuum work more effectively. The metal seat frame is placed into the mold and the mold closed. At this point the mold contains what could be visualized as a "hollow seat", a seat fabric held in the correct position by the vacuum and containing a space with the metal frame in place.
Polyurethane chemicals are injected by a mixing head into the mold cavity. Then the mold is held at a preset reaction temperature until the chemical mixture has foamed, filled the mold, and formed a stable soft foam. The time required is two to three minutes, depending on the size of the seat and the precise formulation and operating conditions. Then the mold is usually opened slightly for a minute or two for an additional cure time, before the fully upholstered seat is removed.
Polyurethane resin is used as an aesthetic floor solution. Being seamless and water resistant, it is gaining interest for use in (modern) interiors, especially in Western Europe.
Polyurethane sealants are available in 1, 2 and even 3 part systems, either in cartridge, bucket or drum format. Polyurethane sealants are also sold for firestopping applications. Obviously, the sealant by itself provides no serious hindrance to fire, as its hydrocarbon bonds readily support combustion. However, when backed by inorganic insulation, such as rockwool or ceramic fibres, it can act as an effective seal to thwart smoke and hose-stream passage, particularly in inorganic joints. It is, however, advisable to avoid direct contact with metallic penetrants and through-penetrating cables, as the heat carried by the penetrants may jeopardise the sealant. This, however, requires a lot of vigilance. In concrete to concrete, or concrete to masonry joints, however, that are free of mechanical or electrical penetrants, it works well and dependably.
On the way to a new and better glue for bookbinders, a new adhesive system was introduced for the first time in 1985. The base for this system is polyether or polyester, whereas polyurethane (PUR) is used as prepolymer. Its special feature is the coagulation at room temperature and the reacting to moisture.
1st Generation (1988 at the drupa)
2nd Generation (1996 at the drupa)
3rd Generation (2000 at the drupa)
4th Generation (present)
Advantages of polyurethane glue in the bookbinding industry: PUR is real wonder compared to hotmelt and cold glue. Because of the missing moisture in the glue, papers with wrong grain direction can be processed without problems. Even printed and supercalandered paper can be bound without problems. It is the most economical glue with an application thickness of theoretical 0.01 mm. But in reality it is not possible to apply less than 0.03 mm. The PUR glue is very weather-proof and stable at temperatures from -40 °C to 100 °C.
Two binary chemicals, one of which is a polyurethane (either T6 or 16), when mixed and aerated, expand into a hard, space-filling aerosolid. Underground caves and voids can be filled quickly this way.
A thin film of polyurethane is added to a polyester weave to create polyurethane laminate (PUL), which is used for its waterproof and windproof properties in outerwear, diapers, shower curtains, and so forth.
It has been reported that exposure to visible light can affect the variability of some physical property test results. Increasing exposure time and/or light intensity during the storage of foam samples under ambient laboratory conditions increased the amount of permanent set induced in some compression set tests (the samples did not fully return to their original size and/or shape). Variability resulted from uncontrolled light exposure of cut samples prior to being compressed. Other foam properties were not substantively affected. It was recommended that specimen preparation and testing be done rapidly to minimize variation in results or if specimens are prepared but not tested for a week or more, that the samples should be protected from light exposure.
Higher-energy UV radiation promotes chemical reactions in foam, some of which are detrimental to the foam structure.