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Bayer in efforts to develop polyurethane nanofoams

Claims that new material will double insulating performance, and reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions

| | Nov 18, 2010 | 4:19 pm
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Claims that new material will double insulating performance, and reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions

Bayer MaterialScience has said that it is working on the development of polyurethane nanofoams that could lead to, what it claims to be, a quantum leap in thermal insulation performance, several years down the road.

The company said in an announcement that it is focusing its efforts on microemulsions, which react under supercritical conditions (Principle of Supercritical Microemulsion Expansion, POSME) to form polyurethane rigid foams. The aim is to produce rigid foams with pore sizes of less than 150 nanometers in diameter, the announcement said.

Explaining the finer points, Dr Stefan Lindner, a polyurethane rigid foam specialist at Bayer MaterialScience, said:

“Nanofoams of this kind achieve twice the thermal insulation performance of today’s polyurethane foams, meaning that they could, for example, significantly reduce the energy consumption of refrigeration appliances and, in turn, make a major contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the walls of these appliances could be of thinner design, resulting in more storage space for refrigerated goods.”

According to the announcement, the company is partnering on this research project with Prof Reinhard Strey from the University of Cologne’s Institute of Physical Chemistry, who has applied for a patent on the POSME process. It further added that as part of the collaboration, his working group is engaged in optimising the characteristics of the microemulsions.

Saying that today’s polyurethane rigid foams typically have pore sizes of roughly 150 micrometers, which exceeds the pore size of nanofoams planned for the future by a factor of approximately 1,000, Bayer MaterialScience elaborated that the thermal insulation performance of a polyurethane rigid foam depends chiefly on the size of the foam pores. The smaller the diameter, the lower the thermal conductivity and the better the insulating effect.

To synthesise a nanofoam using the POSME method, carbon dioxide (CO2) and the liquid polyurethane raw materials (polyol and isocyanate) are mixed with the help of special surfactants at a pressure of 200 bar to form a microemulsion consisting of nanometer-sized droplets filled with CO2 and encapsulated in surfactants, said the company. The pressure is then reduced, causing the CO2 to expand and the droplets to become bubbles, still in the nanometer range. At the same time, the polyurethane raw materials react to form a 3D polymer network that is a rigid polyurethane foam.

“One of the trickiest challenges we face is to optimally coordinate the reaction of the polyurethane raw materials with the expansion of the CO2 bubbles by carefully fine-tuning the processing parameters so that nanopores of the targeted diameter result,” explained Lindner. “It’s no easy task,” he admitted.

Dr Wolfgang Friederichs, Head of Global Product Research at Bayer MaterialScience added, “It is likely to take several more years before these challenges are overcome.”


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