Polyurethane Sponge (PUR and PU sponge) is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. While most polyurethanes are thermosetting polymers that do not melt when heated, thermoplastic polyurethanes are also available.
Polyurethane polymers are traditionally and most commonly formed by reacting a di- or tri poly-isocyanate with a polyol. Both the isocyanates and polyols used to make polyurethanes contain, on average, two or more functional groups per molecule.
Polyurethanes are used in the manufacture of high-resilience foam seating, rigid foam insulation panels, microcellular foam seals and gaskets, durable elastomeric wheels and tires (such as roller coaster, escalator, shopping cart, elevator, and skateboard wheels), automotive suspension bushings, electrical potting compounds, high performance adhesives, surface coatings and surface sealants, synthetic fibers (e.g., Spandex), carpet underlay, hard-plastic parts (e.g., for electronic instruments), condoms,and hoses.
The main ingredients to make a polyurethane are di- and triisocyanates and polyols. Other materials are added to aid processing the polymer or to modify the properties of the polymer.
Polyurethanes sponge are produced by mixing two or more liquid streams. The polyol stream contains catalysts, surfactants, blowing agents and so on. The 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. Polyurethane can be made in a variety of densities and hardnesses by varying the isocyanate, polyol or additives.
Health and safety
Fully reacted polyurethane polymer is chemically inert. No exposure limits have been established in the U.S. by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). It is not regulated by OSHA for carcinogenicity.
Open-flame test. Top, untreated polyurethane foam burns vigorously. Bottom, with fire-retardant treatment.
Polyurethane polymer is a combustible solid and can be ignited if exposed to an open flame. Decomposition from fire can produce significant amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, in addition to nitrogen oxides, isocyanates, and other toxic products. Because of the flammability of the material, it has to be treated with flame retardants (at least in case of furniture), almost all of which are considered harmful.
California later issued Technical Bulletin 117 2013 which allowed most polyurethane foam to pass flammability tests without the use of flame retardants. Green Science Policy Institute states: "Although the new standard can be met without flame retardants, it does NOT ban their use. Consumers who wish to reduce household exposure to flame retardants can look for a TB117-2013 tag on furniture, and verify with retailers that products do not contain flame retardants."
Liquid resin blends and isocyanates may contain hazardous or regulated components. Isocyanates are known skin and respiratory sensitizers. Additionally, amines, glycols, and phosphate present in spray polyurethane foams present risks.
Exposure to chemicals that may be emitted during or after application of polyurethane spray foam (such as isocyanates) are harmful to human health and therefore special precautions are required during and after this process.
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. Regulatory information can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (Food and Drugs) and Title 40 (Protection of the Environment).
In Europe, health and safety information is available from ISOPA, the European Diisocyanate and Polyol Producers Association.
The methods of manufacturing polyurethane sponge finished goods range from small, hand pour piece-part operations to large, high-volume bunstock and boardstock production lines. Regardless of the end-product, the manufacturing principle is the same: to meter the liquid isocyanate and resin blend at a specified stoichiometric ratio, mix them together until a homogeneous blend is obtained, dispense the reacting liquid into a mold or on to a surface, wait until it cures, then demold the finished part.
Main articles: List of polyurethane sponge applications and Polyurethane varnish
In 2007, the global consumption of polyurethane raw materials was above 12 million metric tons, the average annual growth rate is about 5%. Revenues generated with PUR on the global market are expected to rise to approximately US$80 billion by 2020.
Effects of visible light
Polyurethane foam made with an aromatic isocyanate, which has been exposed to UV light. Readily apparent is the discoloration that occurs over time.
Polyurethanes, especially those made using aromatic isocyanates, contain chromophores that interact with light. This is of particular interest in the area of polyurethane coatings, where light stability is a critical factor and is the main reason that aliphatic isocyanates are used in making polyurethane coatings.
When PU foam, which is made using aromatic isocyanates, is exposed to visible light, it discolors, turning from off-white to yellow to reddish brown. It has been generally accepted that apart from yellowing, visible light has little effect on foam properties. This is especially the case if the yellowing happens on the outer portions of a large foam, as the deterioration of properties in the outer portion has little effect on the overall bulk properties of the foam itself.
It has been reported that exposure to visible light can affect the variability of some physical property test results.
Higher-energy UV radiation promotes chemical reactions in foam, some of which are detrimental to the foam structure.
Two species of the Ecuadorian fungus Pestalotiopsis are capable of biodegrading polyurethane in aerobic and anaerobic conditions such as found at the bottom of landfills. Degradation of polyurethane items at museums has been reported. Polyester-type polyurethanes are more easily biodegraded by fungus than polyether-type.