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What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane foams

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is an amazing product and has near limitless uses. It’s used in everything from home furnishings, appliances, medical applications, electronics. Liquid polyurethane is found in coatings, sealants, and elastomers.

It is one of the most versatile products in use today.

Related: Types of Polyurethane | Natural and Safer Polyurethane Alternatives | Types of Concrete Sealers | What Goes Under Carpet | Types of Soundproof Insulation 

Who Created Polyurethane?

Polyurethane was invented by German industrial chemist Professor Dr. Otto Bayer in 1937. At the time he was head of research at IG Farben. He was on the supervisory board of Bayer Corp., (not related to the founder of Bayer Corp.) and in 1975 received the Charles Goodyear Medal, the highest honor from the American Chemical Society.

Polyurethane Makes its Debut

Polyurethane became popular during World War II, where it was used as a rubber replacement, as rubber was very expensive and not readily available. Soon chemists began experimenting with polyurethane to see what other applications it could be used for. They found that it could be used—in different forms—for everything from airplane finishes to clothing.

What Different Types of Polyurethane are There and How is it Used?

Polyurethane spray used to seal a window.

The simple answer is just about everything!

As time went on chemists found that polyurethane was much more versatile than anyone ever expected.

One of the most important uses of polyurethane is structural insulation. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling absorb up to 56% of energy use, insulation helps reduce that energy use.

The list below shows the different forms of polyurethane uses:

  • Flexible Polyurethane Foam: is used for bedding, furniture, carpeting, packaging, the auto industry as well as numerous other consumer and commercial products.
  • Rigid Polyurethane Foam: is primarily used for energy-efficient insulation in commercial and residential structures. Since heating and cooling consumes a huge amount of energy, insulation reduces energy use by acting as a barrier in roofs, walls, windows, and doors.
  • Liquid Polyurethane-Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants and Elastomers: in its liquid form, polyurethanes are found in coatings that extend the life and enhance the look of a product. Adhesives strengthen the bod between two objects. Sealants provide tight seals, and elastomers can be formed, are lightweight and strong.
  • Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU): is a processing application that renders the polyurethane flexible, and can be processed on extrusion, injection and other molding equipment making it a versatile product that can be found in medical equipment, footwear, construction and a huge range of other products.
  • Other types of polyurethane products include Reaction Injection Molding, Binders and Waterborne Polyurethane Dispersions, all with a wide array of uses.

What is so Special About Polyurethane?

Flexible Polyurethane Foam used as soundproof.

The thing that makes polyurethane so special is the wide array of products that use polyurethane compounds. Products that seem to have so similarities.

All the items below include some form of polyurethane:

  • Different forms of residential and commercial insulation
  • Household appliances
  • Furniture, including the pre-formed cushions
  • Footwear including sports shoes, boots and safety shoes
  • Used in the automotive industry for door panels, steering wheels, dashboards, etc.
  • A variety of coatings and adhesives

If you look around your home, in your closet, and in your vehicle, you would be hard-pressed to find items that don’t include some form of polyurethane.