Polyurethane Products: Helping Enable a Sustainable, Energy Efficient, and Climate-Neutral Future – American Chemistry Council

Polyurethane Products: Helping Enable a Sustainable, Energy Efficient, and Climate-Neutral Future – American Chemistry Council
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Polyurethane Products: Helping Enable a Sustainable, Energy …  American Chemistry Council

Polyurethanes and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


Polyurethane chemistry has a unique set of qualities that allow these materials to be used by formulators in a variety of applications to improve our everyday lives. These applications include energy, infrastructure, and developing sustainable cities. For example, buildings equipped with spray polyurethane foam (SPF) and vehicles made lighter with polyurethane foam and adhesives utilize less energy and thus reduce carbon emissions, helping create a less carbon-dependent society and supporting the fight against climate change and ozone depletion. With its excellent strength-to-weight ratio, insulation and air sealing properties, durability, and versatility, polyurethanes help conserve natural resources and preserve the environment by reducing energy usage.

Through these benefits, polyurethanes can help with multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 7 of “Affordable and Clean Energy,” SDG 9 of “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure,” and SDG 11 of “Sustainable Cities and Communities.”

Polyurethanes Help Increase Access to Clean Energy and Reduce GHG Emissions

Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Polyurethanes can help decrease energy costs by tightening up the building envelope and have been designed to work with cleaner energy alternatives to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

One example is how polyurethanes are used in building and construction applications. Building and construction accounted for nearly 44% of polyurethane consumption in the United States in 2021, making it the largest end-use market for polyurethanes materials. Gaps, holes, cracks, and air leaks in buildings can make energy bills unnecessarily high and let valuable resources go to waste. As much as 40% of a building’s energy is lost due to air infiltration. SPF offers a solution: it performs as both insulation and an air sealant, or air barrier, closing those nooks and crannies that let air escape and add extra cost to monthly energy bills. SPF also provides a moisture barrier without the need for any additional products.

Sealing buildings with SPF can reduce energy bills by up to 30%. Insulating and air sealing with spray foam reduces the amount of energy needed to heat and cool a home, thus reducing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and driving down utility bills. Analysis shows that spray foam products outperform other insulation and air sealing products for up to 67 years, continuing to save energy and reduce GHG emissions year over year.

Another example in renewable energy production is how polyurethane resins are used in wind turbine blade production. Their superior mechanical properties, fatigue resistance, workability, and compatibility with fiberglass, make them a solid choice for lighter and longer blade designs. Their low viscosity can enable a faster infusion than other thermoset resins during wind blade production. In addition, polyurethanes systems have been evaluated as low-cost, encapsulant material for solar panels due to their highly effective oxygen and moisture barrier properties as well as their excellent adhesion at the interface with the photovoltaic cells.

Polyurethanes Help Increase Racking Strength of Infrastructure

Sustainable Development Goal 9’s focus is to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” Polyurethane foam can help increase racking strength – the ability to resist heavy winds and storms – of buildings, creating stronger homes with a longer, more sustainable lifespan.

SPF is the only building product that can insulate, seal, and provide a moisture barrier without the need for any other products. The foaming effect helps “seal” the building not only to keep conditioned air inside the building, but also to prevent corroding elements, such as snow, water, and dirt from impacting and deteriorating the structure. Sealing attics with SPF can help prevent embers from entering the attic during wildfire events, preventing further loss of property.

For example, a SPF roofing system can have a lifespan that can exceed 30 years. Applying closed-cell spray foam in the cavities of the walls increases durability of the wall system because of the foam’s ability to conform and adhere to the surface upon which it is sprayed. A wall with spray foam insulation has a higher racking strength, or ability to maintain its shape under duress, compared to a wall assembly without spray foam.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, americanchemistry.com


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