Polyurethane Properties, Production, Price, Market, and Uses

Polyurethane also termed as PUR or PU is a kind of polymer composed of organic units collectively by carbonate (urethane links). It is a part of polymer family but is different from all other forms of plastic polymers available.

 

 

Polyurethane Foam

What is Polyurethane?

It is a versatile, modern and safe form of plastic polymer material available today and used on a large scale for a number of applications. They are highly used for producing consumer and industrial products which are environment-friendly.

They are formed commonly by reaction of di-isocyanate or poly-isocyanate with a polyol. Both of these isocyanates are used to produce PU material with two or more functional groups in per molecule. They can be produced in rigid or flexible form.

They are being commonly used to manufacture high-resilience foam seating, rigid foam insulation panels, foam seats & gaskets, elastomeric wheels and tires, high-performance adhesives and surface coatings along with sealants.


History

It was first invented by Professor Dr. Otto Bayer in the year 1930. These plastic polymers were initially used in World War II, as a replacement of rubber.

In the late 1950s, it gained its importance by being used as adhesives, elastomers & rigid foams and also as flexible cushioning foams.

Nowadays there are various types of PU material available which are used in a variety of products from coatings & adhesives for shoe soles, mattresses to foam insulation materials.


Properties

It is an extremely versatile form of material used for countless applications. The unique performance qualities of these polymers expand their usage in different industries (end-segments). These properties include:

  • Flexibility- It has a high-performance level in high flex fatigue applications and along with it allows good elongation & recovery properties.
  • Wide Range of Hardness- These polymer materials can be manufactured from 20 SHORE to 85 SHORE D.
  • High Load Bearing Capacity- It has a high load bearing capacity while tension & compression. There might be a change in shape under heavy load situations but they return to their original shape as the load is removed.
  • Tear Resistance- They exhibit high tear resistance along with high tensile properties.
  • Abrasion & Impact resistance- These materials have good resistance towards heat and temperature changes. They perform well even at low temperatures.
  • Electrical Properties- It exhibits good electrical insulation properties.
  • Resistance towards water, oil & grease is also excellent. They remain stable with these compounds.
  • Strong Bonding Properties-These polymers bond with a number of materials during their manufacturing process such as other plastics, metals and even with wood.
  • Wide Resiliency Range- They are highly tough in nature due to high resilience property. For shock resistance elastomers resilience range varies from 10-40% and for high-frequency variations it varies from 40-65%.
  • These polymer materials are resistant towards harsh environmental conditions like extreme temperatures and do not corrode away or degrade.
  • PU materials are highly suitable for tropical environments and FDA applications as they are Mold, Mildew & Fungus resistant.
  • Color Ranges- They have varying color ranges as different types of color pigments can be added during the manufacturing process. Even UV shielding is added to make color stable.
  • They are having economical manufacturing process as compared to other forms of thermoplastics being produced.

Production Process       

These materials are produced by mixing two or more liquid streams.  Varieties of raw materials are used in producing final form of PU plastic which helps to protect the integrity & colorants of this polymer.

These Raw Materials include:

Isocyanates- The major element used in the production of these polymers are diisocyanates. They are characterized by (NCO) group which are highly reactive alcohols.

The most commonly used isocyanates in production are toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and polymeric isocyanates (PMDI).

Polyols- The other important elements required during the production process are polyols which contain multiple alcohol groups.

They are produced by alkylene oxide polymerization process and have high molecular weight.

Additives- Usually PU materials can be damaged due to heat, light or atmospheric contents and chlorine. Thus, several additives are added in the production process to maintain their stability in usage.

Several additives added include hydroxybenzotriazole (UV screener), antimildew additives and different colorants to enhance aesthetic appearance.

The Manufacturing Process includes:

They are formed by reaction of a polyol with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate in presence of suitable additives and catalyst.

The production process involves three distinct phases. First, the bulk polymer product is produced. Next, it is exposed to a number of processing steps. Finally, the polymer produced is transformed into the final product and is shipped.


Polyurethane Trading Price


Polyurethane Market Analysis

Polyurethane Demand by End-Segment in 2016

Polyurethane Demand by End-Segment

 

Demand for PUR plastic polymers is increasing rapidly owing to its versatile nature and unique properties. These resins are applicable to be used in almost all the end segment industries varying from construction, medical, packaging, furnishing, electronics and automotive to textiles.

Nowadays furniture market is the most dominant sector among all other end segments in market demand. In the year 2016, the global market demand for these plastic materials from furniture market was 5.3 million tons.

Primarily its uses in furniture market include furniture cushions, carpet cushion, and mattresses etc. It is further followed by construction sector with the annual demand of 2 million tons in 2016.

It is used as an insulation material in construction sector majorly in walls, roofs, and ceilings. They are also being used to enhance the aesthetic appearance of houses & buildings like used in modern interiors, aesthetic flooring material etc.

Appliances also share an important place in total market demand with the demand of 1.6 million tons followed by automotive with 1.3 million tons rigid foam (1 mt) and soft foam (0.3 mt).

Other segments including medical, textile and packaging etc. contributed up to 5.8 million tons in the total demand for the year 2016.

Polyurethane Consumption in Different Form 2016

PUR plastics are available in different forms with different uses for a countless number of applications. It has its maximum usage of Flexible Foam material with 31% of market share being widely used in mattresses, cushions, car seats and others.

The flexible foam material is further followed by Rigid PUR foam which is commonly used for insulation purpose in construction sector on a very large scale comprising of 25% of the total share.

Molded foam comprises about 11% usage in the total market share and is used primarily in automotive and furniture industry. Adhesives & sealants along with elastomers share the same amount of usage in the production of a variety of daily use products.

Lastly, coatings which are used to enhance the appearance and durability have the minimum share among all other types of material used. Others used in materials like shoes & fibers comprise 18% of the total market share.

Sales of Polyurethane in Primary Form

Polyurethane Sales in European Market

As depicted in the above forecast there has been a continuous increase in sales of these plastic polymers in recent years. Europe is among one of the prominent regions contributing to these increased sales figures.

Among all European countries, Belgium has the maximum contribution in the global market with the sale of PU plastics up to 905.84-kilo tons in the year 2016.

Belgium is further followed by The United Kingdom with the sale of 138.28-kilo tons which was further continued by The Netherlands with the contribution of 121.95-kilo tons in the total European sales.

Other countries included Spain (113.37), France (43.47), Austria (10.52), Portugal (8.12), Denmark (4.34), Croatia (0.29) and Finland (0.13) kilo tons.

Sales (Plates, Sheet, Film, Foil & Strips) of Cellular Polyurethane

Sales of Plates and Sheet of Cellular Polyurethane in Europe

These plastic polymers are used to manufacture a variety of plastic products used in daily lives. European PU market also has a variety of materials being produced and sold.

The major products include plates, sheet, film, foil & strip made from a cellular form of PUR. Among all the European countries here Germany leads in the sale of these products with the annual sale of 279.15 kilograms in the year 2016.

Germany is further followed by Poland with the sale of 150.97 kilograms which is continued by The United Kingdom with the annual sale of 139.1 kilograms.

Other major countries include France (127.75), Belgium (89.46), Spain (76.88), Hungary (26.01), Lithuania (22.75), Estonia (6.75) and Italy (0.14) kilogram.

 

Global Market Forecast for Polyurethane

Global Polyurethane Market Forecast

There has been a continuous rise in the demand for PUR materials in the recent years owing to its increasing usage in end segment industries. The global market demand is expected to be more than US$ 56bn by 2021.

Drivers

  • Increased demand for light weight & durable materials from end segment industries (construction, furniture, electronics, automotive, footwear & packaging) has fueled the market demand globally.
  • Improving lifestyle with increased disposable income in countries like China, India & Brazil etc have accelerated the demand in different sectors.
  • Rising demand for vehicle seating, refrigeration and insulation are primary factors driving market growth in the forecasted period.

Restraints

  • Growing environmental concerns.
  • Volatility in prices of raw materials.

Opportunity

  • Continuous innovation and commercialization in regard to bio-based PU plastics are creating new market opportunities for the industry players.
  • Government support for infrastructure development is boosting the construction sector globally along with this there is increased market opportunity for PUR to be used as insulation material.

Application Insights

The construction sector is domination the market demand globally as these thermoplastics are being used for insulation and flooring & roofing applications in construction sector on a very large scale.

Emerging countries like India, South Africa, Thailand and others are key players in the usage of these plastics for construction.

It is further followed by furniture segment where it is used for bedding, seating, upholstery, and others. Increased standard of living has lead to an increased preference for luxury furniture which creates new market opportunities.

Another Prominent sector is electronics market where it is used in wires, circuits & sensors etc.

Regional Insights

Asia-Pacific remains the dominant region for growing market demand because of skilled labor, easy availability of raw materials and local government support.

Innovative schemes in countries like “Make in India” in India or “Favorable Buyers” in Thailand are accelerating demand for these plastics.

Asian-Pacific regions are followed by Central & South American countries with steady growth in recent years, majorly in the automotive sector.

Competitive Insights

Key market players in this market include Covestro AG (Germany), BASF SE (Germany), The Dow Chemical Company (U.S.), Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd. (China), and Huntsman Corporation (U.S.) is the key players in the polyurethane market.

Global Polyurethane Foam Market Forecast

Global Polyurethane Foam Market Forecast

The PU foam market has witnessed continuous growth in recent years. The global market demand was around US$ 49bn in 2017 and is further projected to be more than US$ 58bn by 2021.

Market Drivers

The major factor driving the market demand is growing usage in end-segment industries such as automotive, bedding & furniture, building & construction, electrical & electronics, footwear, and packaging.

Market Restraints

Market growth is hampered primarily due to environmental concerns that arise due to the usage of synthetic foam materials.

Most of the synthetically produced goods result in environmental pollution after being decomposed which possess a threat to environment & human health.

Market Opportunity

Research & Development for producing bio-polyurethane can highly accelerate the market demand in near future.

Application Insights

Building & construction sector dominates the market demand as the foam is highly used in this segment. It is used for insulation, sound absorption, padding & strengthening the structures being built.

It is being used on a large scale to improve the acoustic comfort and ambiance primarily for residential places.

Regional Insights

Asia-Pacific regions dominate the PU foam market because of growing demand from end segments (construction, automotive & packaging). Increasing population & economic development in these regions also fuel the market demand globally.

Even the Middle East countries are projected to witness the high amount of growth in market demand due to increased construction activities.

Competitive Insights

The key players dominating the market are BASF SE (Germany), The Dow Chemical Company (U.S.), Bayer AG (Germany), Sekisui Chemical Co. Ltd. (Japan), Nitto Denko Corporation (Japan), Compagnie de Saint-Gobain S.A. (France) and Huntsman Corporation (U.S.).

 

Global Market Forecast for Polyurethane Film Market

Global Polyurethane Films Market

The global market has witnessed growth in the demand of TPU films in recent years exhibiting a steady CAGR from the year 2016 to 2022; the market is expected to expand from a value of US$ 328mn in 2017 to reach US$ 453mn by 2023.

Market Drivers

The market is primarily driven by the rising demand from automotive sector (doors & panels, seats, interiors, airbag etc.) followed by its increased application in aircraft (seat cushions, masks, wire & cable jacketing etc).

Increasing awareness about lightweight materials to be used in automotive to enhance their fuel efficiency this market has witnessed tremendous amount of growth in recent years.

Market Opportunity

 Increasing application of solar & wind power installation systems is creating new market opportunities for TPU films. They are used in windmills & solar panels to protect their surface regions.

Also, development of bio-based films is likely to open new opportunities and drive the market demand in the near future.

 Market Restraints

Volatility in prices of raw materials (MDI) and the strict environmental regulations against usage of hazardous raw material hamper the market growth.

Regional Outlook

Asia-Pacific is driving the market demand owing to increased construction activities and production of automotive.

It is further followed by Europe & North America driven by increased demand for TPU films from end segment industries.

Competitive Outlook

 Leading manufacturers of polyurethane films market include BASF SE, Covestro AG, The Lubrizol Corporation, Huntsman Corporation and Tosoh Corporation.


Global Trade of Polyurethane

Trade Balance of Polyurethane

Global Trade Balance of Polyurethane

Global trade balance (export-import) of PU is positive and constant from past few years. The trade balance in 2016 was US$ 0.18bn with exports worth of US$ 6.14bn and imports worth of US$ 5.96bn.

Top 10 Exporters of Polyurethane

Top 10 Countries Exporting Polyurethane

Germany is the leading exporter of PU material globally in 2016. It exported material worth of US$ 1.37bn. The second largest exporter of PU material was the United States. It exported material worth of US$ 754.6mn followed by Italy with PU material worth US$ 553mn.

The other leading exporter in top 10 were China (US$ 378.7mn), Netherlands (US$ 336.2mn), Belgium (US$ 295.1mn), Taiwan (US$ 283.3mn), South Korea (US$ 269.7mn), Spain (US$ 229.2mn) and Japan (US$ 203.8mn)

Top 10 Importers of Polyurethane

Top 10 Countries Importing Polyurethane

China is the largest importer of PU material in 2016. It imported material worth of US$ 602mn. The demand of PU in China is because of the requirement of light weight and durable material from the end-segment.

The second largest importer was Germany with the material worth of US$ 370.9mn. Germany is also the largest exporter of PU material globally in 2016.


Types of Polyurethane

PUR materials exist in a variety of forms these include:

  • Flexible Polyurethane Foam- It is used for cushioning of a variety of commercial products like bedding, furniture, carpet and even packaging.

They can be created in any shape and are light, durable, supportive and comfortable.

  • Rigid Polyurethane Foam- It has the capability to reduce energy cost by making commercial & residential properties more efficient and comfortable.

These materials are commonly used for insulation of walls & roofs.

  • Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants & Elastomers (CASE) – They offer a board and growing spectrum for a variety of applications and benefits in end segment industrial usage. These types help to enhance appearance and lifespan of products.
  • Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) – This form of material is an ideal combination of physical properties and processing applications. They are highly elastic, flexible and abrasion resistant.
  • Reaction Injection Molding (RIM) – PUR material produced from reaction injection molding are commonly used for car bumpers, electrical housing panels, computer parts & telecommunication services.
  • Binders- These PU binders are used to bind a variety of particles and fibers together. They are used in floorings, carpets & wood panels etc.
  • Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions (PUDs) – They are the coatings and adhesives which are used in water as the primary solvents. PUDs are being used more in industrial & commercial uses in different forms for a variety of products.

Areas of expertise

TypeApplication and Uses
Flexible FoamSlabstock – Polyether, Polyester, HR/CMHR, Viscoelastic etc

Molded- Transport seating, furniture, carpet

Integral Skin- Automotive & Furniture

Rigid FoamRefrigeration, Pipe insulation, sprayed foam, faced panels
PU CoatingsTransport- Auto refinish & OEM, vehicles, marine transport etc

Construction- Architectural, roof tanks & maintenance

Industrial & plastic coatings.

Adhesives & SealantsAdhesives- Automotives, construction, packaging, footwear etc

Sealants- Insulated & auto direct glazing, construction, transport etc.

ElastomersCast elastomers, synthetic leather, footwear, TPU, RIM others
BindersForest products, foundry, rubber crumb etc
PDUsTextile &Coatings, industrial coatings, adhesives and sealants, fiber-glass sizing

Applications & Usage

It is a modern, safe and versatile form of thermoplastic used on a large scale nowadays for a countless number of applications.

They are being used for various numbers of applications to create different kinds of consumer & industrial products which make our lives convenient, comfortable and also help in achieving sustainable environment growth.

These applications include:

Automotive

This material being used in automotive help to increase mileage by reducing the weight of the vehicle and increasing the fuel efficiency.

They are being used in a number of automotive parts including car seats, bumpers, interiors, ceiling, body, doors & windows. It is also used in vehicles for insulation & sound absorption purpose.

Appliances

PUR plastics have become a major part of many appliances being used in everyday lives. The most common form of usage is in refrigerators for insulation purpose.

Strong thermal properties, resistance, and cost-effectiveness of this material make it a preferred choice over other thermoplastics for manufacturers to be used in different appliances.

Building & Construction

There has been increased usage of plastics in the construction sector over years due to their easy availability, versatility, cost-effectiveness, durability, lightweight & aesthetic appearance.

PU with the excellent strength-to-weight ratio, insulation properties, and durability has gained its preference in a number of construction activities.

It is widely used in cushioning, carpets, roof & walls, sunlight reflectors, entry & garage doors with unique colors & designs.

Composite Wood

As these thermoplastics offer a wide range of versatility, they are also being used in composite woods in form of bio-based binders for permanently gluing organic materials into oriented strand board, medium density fiberboard or as laminated-veneer lumber and even also as strawboard.

Furnishing

Flexible Foam is the most commonly used form of this material in furnishing segment. They are used on a very large scale in furniture, bedding, carpet as they are more durable, lightweight, comfortable and also supportive.

Electronics

These plastic polymers are used in electronics sector to encapsulate, seal and insulate fragile, pressure-sensitive, microelectronic components, underwater cables, and printed circuit boards.

They are highly used to protect electronics by providing strong dielectric & adhesive properties along with the high amount of temperature resistance.

Marine

Boating is an essential source of entertainment all over the world. There has been continuous innovation in boating industry which has increased the usage of these polymers in this industry.

It is used to protect boat hulls from water, weather and other forms of corrosion. They are also used to insulate boats from noise and temperatures.

As they are elastic and durable in nature they are also used for wire & cable coatings, engine tubing, and drive belts and in many other parts of the boat.

Medical

PUR plastic resins are used for a number of medical applications including a catheter, tubes, hospital bedding, surgical drapes, wound dressing and many other numbers of injection molded medical devices.

They are commonly used in short-term implants also as they are more cost-effective and provide toughness along with longevity.

Abrasion Resistance

PURs are highly used for abrasion resistance (coatings to enhance the efficiency of product) in a number of industries including mining & mineral processing, concrete, transportation, paper processing, power and boat manufacturing etc.

Packaging

Plastics dominate the packaging market globally. Among different forms of plastic polymers being used for packaging PUR is one of the prominent and most preferred by manufacturers.

As it is more cost effective and helps to provide form-fitting cushioning to the products which help in securing product safety during transportation of goods.

They are commonly used in packaging of electronic goods, medical devices, glass products and many other delicate products which require extra protection during transportation.

Textiles

Along with Polyesters PUR materials are also used in textile industry. A thin film of PU is added along with polyester in fabrics to create a polyurethane laminate (PUL) to enhance the efficiency of the product.

It is used in outwears, diapers, shower curtains etc to make them waterproof and windproof.


Advantages & Disadvantages of Polyurethane

The benefits of using these plastic materials include:

  • High Abrasion Resistance.
  • Good maintenance even at low temperatures.
  • Wide molecular structural variability.
  • Ambient curing is easily possible.
  • Comparatively, the cost is low than other thermoplastics.

The limitations with the usage of this plastic polymer are:

  • Poor thermal capability.
  • They can be attacked by most of the solvents.
  • Involve usage of toxic isocyanates.
  • Poor Weatherability.

Polyurethane V/s Conventional Materials

PU vs. RubberPU vs. MetalPU vs. Plastic
High Abrasion ResistanceLight weightHigh Impact resistance
High cut & tear resistanceReduced NoiseElastic memory
Superior load bearingAbrasion ResistanceNoise reduction
Oil-resistanceEconomical FabricationResilience
Ozone resistanceResilienceCold flow resistance
Radiation ResistanceImpact resistanceRadiation resistance
Low-pressure toolingEasily MoldableThick section molding

 


Recycling

Like all other plastic materials, PURs are also recycled to conserve resources and help to reduce the impact of plastics on environment & human health.

These Plastic materials are recycled in two different ways either by mechanical recycling of polymers (material is reused in polymer form) or by chemical recycling (breaks material back to its chemical constitutes).

Examples of Different Types of Recycling

  • Rebond – More than billion pounds of recollected PU scrap material was used to create cushions for carpet underlay in the year 2010.
  • Mattresses- About an estimate of 800 pounds of PU foam is recovered every day from one mattress recycling unit in Alameda country.
  • Recycled Raw materials- A manufacturer in Michigan provides polyols (raw material for PUR) with up to 70% of the total raw material being recycled from the automotive industry.

Is Polyurethane Toxic?

These plastic polymers are truly a versatile compound used commonly in everyday lives. However, these compounds can be responsible for many health and environmental problems.

The major ingredient that makes these materials dangerous is isocyanates which are released by PUR based products and can cause irritation in eyes, nose, and throat also breathing problems even can lead to blindness, disabilities or death.

If these compounds are well manufactured then there is no danger of exposure as its dangerous components are rendered inert or non-toxic when they are being successfully bonded together.