Polyurethanes (PUs) are now an indispensable part of everyday life. We walk wearing shoes and sit on furniture that contain PUs, and the material is used to insulate our walls.
But PUs are also used in areas where safety is an important factor; for example, to make tubes for use in medical technology. The light-weight material is used in the construction of cars to lower the weight of the vehicle. This enables manufacturers to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, or to get electric cars to cover longer distances on a single battery charge.
The popularity of the material is down to its versatility. It can be either hard or soft and can be foamed up in various ways.
Durability barely researched
Despite the use of these plastics in sensitive and safety-related areas, like medical technology and car manufacturing, there is not much information currently available about their durability and reliability. In its PolyComp project, BAM is, therefore, examining how PUs age, and how their fault-free functionality can be guaranteed over the long term.
Combination of various testing techniques
Researchers led by Dr. Steffen Weidner, project coordinator in the field of Polymer Analysis, are employing numerous innovative methods of investigation to examine structural mechanisms using temperature, humidity or UV radiation, for example. This includes new non-destructive methods, such as ultrasound and terahertz radiation – radiation in the frequency range between microwaves and infra-red. These technologies allow the researchers to examine damage to the insides of the material, without destroying it.
Fourteen divisions working together
BAM is in an ideal position to research the variety of PUs and their applications because of its interdisciplinary approach. The plastic's variability makes it difficult to conduct a comprehensive and generally applicable investigation. At BAM, employees from a total of 14 divisions have been working for over three years on the project.
Dr. Weidner's aim is to find reliable and durable products with PUs. In an ideal scenario, at the end of the project it will be possible to draw inferences about other plastics on the basis of the results obtained.