Polyurethane (PU) is a polymer obtained from hydroxyl bases that are combined with diisocyanates. They are classified into two groups according to their chemical structure, differentiated by their behaviour with temperature: thermoplastic polyurethanes (paints, packaging, fabrics...) and thermosetting polyurethanes. The most common of the latter are foams that are used as resilient foams and thermal insulators.
Polyurethane foam (PU foam) is a porous plastic material that is formed by the addition of bubbles. It is also known as foam rubber. It is created by the gaseous chemical reaction of the compounds polyol (sugar) and isocyanate (petroleum). This reaction releases carbon dioxide which is the gas that creates the bubbles and is a reaction with expansion of the liquid volume. Its formula also allows and needs additives and multiple variants. It is a widely used material. It can be obtained by spraying (both components at the same time on a surface) or by casting (both materials are mixed).
Polyurethane foam can be divided into two types:
- Hot foaming: during its reaction it releases heat. It is manufactured in a continuous process in a mechanism called a foaming machine. It is the most commonly used and the cheapest.
- Cold foam: it releases almost no heat in the reaction. It is produced in a simple foamer. It is of higher quality and lasts longer than hot foam but costs more.
It is an insulating material, can also be used for waterproofing, is lightweight, shock absorbing, as well as being harmless to humans and versatile.
Recycling of this material is very important. Polyurethane foam waste can be reused or energy can be recovered to replace fossil fuels. Polyurethane is a durable, non-rotting and inert material. This material can generally be reused in less demanding applications. Foam waste can be ground and reprocessed into other building materials, and can also be used for packaging. If it cannot be reused, recycled or transformed into other products, energy can be recovered and used to create electricity, thus replacing fossil fuels.
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