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   » Wiki: Polyurethane
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Polyurethane (often abbreviated PUR and PU) is a composed of organic units joined by (urethane) links. In contrast to other common polymers such as and , polyurethane is produced from a wide range of starting materials () and is therefore a class of polymers, rather than a distinct compound. This chemical variety allows for polyurethanes with very different physical properties, leading to an equally wide range of different applications including: rigid and flexible foams, varnishes and coatings, adhesives, electrical potting compounds, and fibres such as and PUL. Of these, foams are the largest single application, accounting for 67% of all polyurethane produced in 2016.

Polyurethane polymers are traditionally and most commonly formed by reacting a di- or with a . Since polyurethanes contain two types of monomers, which polymerise one after the other, they are classed as alternating copolymers. Both the isocyanates and polyols used to make polyurethanes contain, on average, two or more per molecule.

Global production in 2019 was some 25 million metric tonnes, accounting for about 6% of all polymers produced in that year. This is a sufficiently high volume for it to be regarded as a commodity plastic.q

and his coworkers at in Leverkusen, Germany, first made polyurethanes in 1937. The new polymers had some advantages over existing plastics that were made by polymerizing olefins or by , and were not covered by patents obtained by Wallace Carothers on . Early work focused on the production of fibres and flexible foams and PUs were applied on a limited scale as aircraft coating during World War II. became commercially available in 1952, and production of flexible polyurethane foam began in 1954 by combining toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and polyester polyols. These materials were also used to produce rigid foams, gum rubber, and . Linear fibers were produced from hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) and 1,4-Butanediol (BDO).

In 1956 introduced polyether polyols, specifically poly(tetramethylene ether) glycol, and and started selling polyalkylene glycols in 1957. Polyether polyols were cheaper, easier to handle and more water-resistant than polyester polyols, and became more popular. and , a U.S. / joint venture, also began making polyurethane chemicals. In 1960 more than 45,000 metric tons of flexible polyurethane foams were produced. The availability of chlorofluoroalkane blowing agents, inexpensive polyether polyols, and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) allowed polyurethane rigid foams to be used as high-performance insulation materials. In 1967, urethane-modified rigid foams were introduced, offering even better thermal stability and resistance. During the 1960s, automotive interior safety components, such as instrument and door panels, were produced by back-filling skins with semi-rigid foam.

In 1969, Bayer exhibited an all-plastic car in Düsseldorf, Germany. Parts of this car, such as the fascia and body panels, were manufactured using a new process called reaction injection molding (RIM), in which the reactants were mixed and then injected into a mold. The addition of fillers, such as milled glass, , and processed mineral fibres, gave rise to reinforced RIM (RRIM), which provided improvements in (stiffness), reduction in coefficient of thermal expansion and better thermal stability. This technology was used to make the first plastic-body automobile in the United States, the , in 1983. Further increases in stiffness were obtained by incorporating pre-placed glass mats into the RIM mold cavity, also known broadly as resin injection molding, or structural RIM.

Starting in the early 1980s, water-blown microcellular flexible foams were used to mold gaskets for automotive panels and air-filter seals, replacing PVC polymers. Polyurethane foams have gained popularity in the automotive realm, and are now used in high-temperature oil-filter applications.

Polyurethane foam (including foam rubber) is sometimes made using small amounts of to give less dense foam, better cushioning/energy absorption or thermal insulation. In the early 1990s, because of their impact on , the Montreal Protocol restricted the use of many -containing blowing agents, such as trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11). By the late 1990s, blowing agents such as , , 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134a) and 1,1,1,3,3-pentafluoropropane (HFC-245fa) were widely used in North America and the EU, although chlorinated blowing agents remained in use in many developing countries. Later, HFC-134a was also banned due to high ODP and GWP readings, and HFC - 141B was introduced in early 2000s as an alternate blowing agent in aforementioned developing nations. 1,1-Dichloro-1-fluoroethane (HCFC-141b) was introduced in early 2000s as an alternate blowing agent in developing nations.

Polyurethanes are in the class of compounds called reaction polymers, which include , unsaturated , and .
(1992). 9780195209334, Oxford University Press.
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(1996). 9780471963714, John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
(1990). 9780471926580, John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Polyurethanes are produced by reacting an isocyanate containing two or more groups per molecule (R−(N=C=O) n n ≥ 2) with a containing on average two or more hydroxyl groups per molecule (R′−(OH) n) in the presence of a catalyst or by activation with ultraviolet light.

The properties of a polyurethane are greatly influenced by the types of isocyanates and polyols used to make it. Long, flexible segments, contributed by the polyol, give soft, elastic polymer. High amounts of give tough or rigid polymers. Long chains and low crosslinking give a polymer that is very stretchy, short chains with many crosslinks produce a hard polymer while long chains and intermediate crosslinking give a polymer useful for making foam. The crosslinking present in polyurethanes means that the polymer consists of a three-dimensional network and molecular weight is very high. In some respects a piece of polyurethane can be regarded as one giant molecule. One consequence of this is that typical polyurethanes do not soften or melt when they are heated; they are thermosetting polymers. The choices available for the isocyanates and polyols, in addition to other additives and processing conditions allow polyurethanes to have the very wide range of properties that make them such widely used polymers.

Isocyanates are very reactive materials. This makes them useful in making polymers but also requires special care in handling and use. The aromatic isocyanates, diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI) or toluene diisocyanate (TDI) are more reactive than isocyanates, such as hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) or isophorone diisocyanate (IPDI). Most of the isocyanates are difunctional, that is they have exactly two isocyanate groups per molecule. An important exception to this is polymeric diphenylmethane diisocyanate, which is a mixture of molecules with two, three, and four or more isocyanate groups. In cases like this the material has an average functionality greater than two, commonly 2.7.

Polyols are polymers in their own right and have on average two or more hydroxyl groups per molecule. Polyether polyols are mostly made by co-polymerizing and with a suitable polyol precursor. Polyester polyols are made similarly to polymers. Polyols used to make polyurethanes are mixtures of similar molecules with distinct molecular weights, which is why the "average functionality" is often mentioned. Despite being complex mixtures, industrial grade polyols are sufficiently well controlled to produce polyurethanes with consistent properties. Polyol chain length and functionality contribute much to the polyurethane properties. Polyols used to make rigid polyurethanes have molecular weights in the hundreds, while those used to make flexible polyurethanes have molecular weights in the thousands.

The reaction makes a polymer containing the urethane linkage, −RNHCOOR′− and is catalyzed by tertiary , such as 1,4-diazabicyclo2.2.2octane (also called ), and compounds, such as dibutyltin dilaurate or bismuth octanoate. Alternatively, it can be promoted by ultraviolet light. This is often referred to as the gellation reaction or simply gelling.

If water is present in the reaction mixture (it is often added intentionally to make foams), the isocyanate reacts with water to form a linkage and gas and the resulting polymer contains both urethane and urea linkages. This reaction is referred to as the blowing reaction and is catalyzed by tertiary amines like bis-(2-dimethylaminoethyl)ether.

A third reaction, particularly important in making insulating rigid foams is the isocyanate trimerization reaction, which is catalyzed by potassium octoate, for example.

One of the most desirable attributes of polyurethanes is their ability to be turned into foam. Making a foam requires the formation of a gas at the same time as the urethane polymerization (gellation) is occurring. The gas can be , either generated by reacting isocyanate with water or added as a gas; it can also be produced by boiling volatile liquids. In the latter case heat generated by the polymerization causes the liquids to vaporize. The liquids can be HFC-245fa (1,1,1,3,3-pentafluoropropane) and HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), and hydrocarbons such as .

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