Rubber World — October 2013
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Innovations from the 2013 Polyurethanes Technical Conference
Lee Salamone


Last month, more than 800 polyurethane professionals gathered at the premier industry event in North America, the 2013 Polyurethanes Technical Conference. This event, which is hosted annually by the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI) of the American Chemistry Council, brings together experts and leaders from the entire polyurethanes value chain to discuss the latest industry advancements and innovations. The conference, which is now in its 56th year, was held September 23 to 25 in Phoenix.

While the polyurethanes industry continues to make significant advancements each year, the basic diisocyanate polyaddition process was invented more than 75 years ago by German scientist Dr. Otto Bayer during World War II. He wanted to produce plastic more efficiently and find a possible substitute for rubber, which was in high demand during the war. Dr. Bayer's invention was swiftly put to use, and polyurethane coatings were used for the impregnation of paper and the manufacture of mustard gas-resistant garments, high-gloss airplane finishes, and chemical and corrosion-resistant coatings to protect metal, wood and masonry. Today, more than three-quarters of a century later, Dr. Bayer's work has inspired an entire industry that is now valued at nearly $20 billion and directly employs more than 37,500 people in the United States alone.

Each year, the Polyurethanes Technical Conference draws leaders and experts from every corner of the industry, which spans raw material producers to end users in dozens of markets, including building and construction, automotive, footwear and apparel, furniture, appliances, and coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE). As a technical conference, the program focuses strongly on innovations in polyurethane chemistry, products and processes, and provides substantial opportunities for networking, professional development and education.

Providing unmatched opportunities to expand technical knowledge
From the opening to the closing session, and throughout the technical and poster sessions and tabletop exhibits, one theme that carried through the entire 2013 conference was the positive impact that polyurethanes have on people's daily lives. From reducing the weight of cars to make them more fuel and energy efficient, to developing the latest low-global warming potential blowing agents (foaming agents) and other innovations that improve insulation in both homes and appliances while reducing environmental impacts, polyurethanes have significantly improved our modern lives.

CPI Steering Committee chair, Gerry Podesta, senior vice president for performance materials at BASF, was one of the featured speakers at the conference's opening session. In his fifth year attending the event, Podesta has seen how the industry uses this annual gathering to discuss the most important issues facing the industry, and to reflect on its progress and prospects for the future.

"The CPI conference has always been and continues to be the centerpiece for the polyurethanes industry," Podesta said. "Attendance has grown every year since the economic crisis almost six years ago, which reflects how the industry continues to expand while providing sustainable solutions to our customers and society in general. Every year, I get the chance to experience the excitement of a vibrant industry and frankly, that is what I look forward to most."

Tony Lanchak, vice president/business unit leader for the Global Urethane Additives business at Momentive Performance Materials, served as the 2013 Conference Committee chair, following in the footsteps of Amanda Pugh of ChemTrend LP, who served in this role for the 2012 conference in Atlanta. In this role, Lanchak guided the development of the conference program along with the CPI Conference Committee.

"Now in its 56th year, the conference continues to provide industry leaders and professionals with the opportunity to hear about the industry's latest innovations, technical developments and critical issues facing the global polyurethanes industry," noted Lanchak. "Every year, I am excited about the abundance of technical presentations. This year, we had an incredible number of papers, which were presented in more than 16 technical sessions, as well as the poster session."

During the opening session, Lanchak presented the three finalists for CPI's 2013 Innovation Award. He noted that with this award, CPI "highlights the role that innovation plays in the polyurethanes industry by recognizing companies and individuals whose vision brings new products, technologies and initiatives to the marketplace."

The award finalists included Romeo RIM for its class A, in-mold decorated long fiber injection system; TSE Industries for its new polyurethane thermoset resin for filament winding applications; and InVista Terate Polyols for its new Terate HT polyols. Innovation Award finalists are evaluated by a panel of judges comprised of experts representing technical disciplines and the polyurethane supply chain. The judges evaluate and score entries based on impact on the polyurethanes industry, uniqueness of the innovation, quality of the science and societal impact. Previous Innovation Award winners include Huntsman's Vitrox composite resins, Albemarle's breakthrough color stable spray coating technology with Ethacure 90, and BASF's FilterPave porous pavement system.

The conference opening session also featured a keynote presentation by Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno. Currently the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, Sesno has more than 25 years of journalistic experience, including 18 years at CNN. He discussed the future of energy and the importance of communicating the latest innovations and benefits offered by the polyurethanes industry.

This year's conference also marked the 10th anniversary of the Polyurethanes Professional Development Program (PDP). Unique to the Polyurethanes Technical Conference, the PDP offers valuable information for professionals throughout the value chain and within the polyurethane business. Courses ranged from broad, introductory subjects to advanced, specialized topics for seasoned professionals, industry newcomers, as well as non-technical conference attendees.

New this year, CPI offered a preconference workshop on environmental, health and safety issues relevant to diisocyanates. Approximately 120 people participated in the workshop, which offered attendees a deeper understanding of the fundamentals and evolving regulations related to the environmental, health and safety issues surrounding diisocyanates. These issues are increasingly important for today's polyurethane professionals, as diisocyanates are an essential raw material in polyurethane production.

Highlighting key advancements in the polyurethanes industry
As the conference's approximately 70 technical papers demonstrated, the polyurethanes industry continues to be a hub of innovation. These developments target key growth areas, like building and construction and automotive, and address contemporary challenges, such as energy and environmental initiatives. Lanchak noted, "This year's technical program highlighted the industry's ongoing focus on combustibility, recycling and recovery, building codes and standards, energy, chemical regulation, transportation, and environmental, health and safety issues."

Podesta elaborated: "The area of blowing agent technology continues to evolve to optimize insulation performance and to move toward blowing agents with less impact on the environment. The industry continues to address environmental, health and safety issues and supports the safe use of polyurethane in its applications and to look at polyurethane through life-cycle analysis."

The polyurethanes industry has also experienced significant developments in a variety of market areas. For example, the conference highlighted advancements in the automotive sector, including developments in polyurethane applications that help decrease vehicle weight, low volatile organic compound (VOC) formulations, and noise, vibration and harshness applications. Combined, these applications offer consumers a safer, more comfortable ride in a vehicle that is more fuel efficient. In addition, the conference featured three technical sessions focused on advancements in the construction sector, including a session specifically devoted to the science of spray polyurethane foam. Innovations in the construction industry that experts presented at the conference focused on developments in foam technology, moisture barriers and spray polyurethane foam systems.

Throughout the three days of the conference, companies had the opportunity to showcase their latest products and services during the Table Top Exhibition. Companies illustrated how their new advancements and technologies will help the industry continue to evolve to meet future needs. In fact, Podesta noted that "with more than 50 table top exhibits this year, it's practically a mini-trade show within the conference."

Looking to the future of the polyurethanes industry The 2013 Polyurethanes Technical Conference showcased how the industry continues to thrive and offer great promise for the future. In Phoenix, CPI unveiled its 2012 End-Use Market Survey on the Polyurethanes Industry in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The survey features comprehensive information and industry analysis, including a breakdown of polyurethane production by product type and by major end-use market for each country. It found that the industry grew a healthy 5.1% between 2010 and 2012 in North America. Further, an increase in vehicle manufacturing, in particular, spurred demand for polyurethanes in that market.

The conference's End-Use Market Survey presentation was just one example of the numerous discussions that took place focusing on the current and future state of the industry. Polyurethane leaders provided their personal insights on the future of the industry. Podesta noted some specific polyurethane applications that are poised to grow, saying, "Polyurethane materials will have an increasing impact in the composite resin matrix due to flowability, ductility, cycle time and design versatility. Additionally, the accelerating fuel efficiency challenges facing the auto industry have put weight reduction in the forefront like never before. Composites will play a key role in decreasing vehicles' weights and meeting these goals."

Lanchak commented that North America will focus on being more competitive in a very competitive global marketplace, as the United States shifts towards energy independence, and that the industry is doing exciting work with environmentally friendly polyols. Lanchak further stated that there is interesting research in progress with siloxane-based polyurethanes in biomedical engineering applications.

Given the numerous intersections of the polyurethane and rubber industries, Podesta added, "Advancements in elastomers happen constantly, as every application may require a new formulation. But key properties, such as durability, abrasion resistance, and noise, vibration and harshness, continue to challenge the fringe of existing rubber applications. I see the polyurethanes industry continuing to drive unique and application-specific developments in this area."

As part of discussions focused on the future of polyurethanes, experts also examined how the industry can address current and future challenges. Podesta said, "Polyurethane has been used safely for generations, but myths and misunderstandings about product safety persist. This can be frustrating because our industry takes environmental, health and safety issues very seriously."

However, in the midst of these challenges, the polyurethanes industry also has a unique opportunity. CPI has valuable information for both companies and industry professionals on issues that impact the entire industry and its value chain, including building codes and standards, regulatory and environmental issues, and technical programs. Lanchak said, "Nearly all of us in the polyurethanes industry are attempting to address these issues as part of our industry path forward." For instance, CPI provides product stewardship resources that help the industry better understand environmental, health and safety issues throughout the lifespan of a product. "We have made communication to the polyurethane value chain and consumers a top priority," added Podesta.

Looking ahead to the 2014 Polyurethanes Technical Conference
Continuing the tradition of the conferences before it, the 2014 Polyurethanes Technical Conference will address the latest issues and advancements in the industry. The 2014 conference chair, Paul Duffy, vice president of engineering at Icynene, closed the event with a preview of the 2014 conference. CPI will begin accepting paper and poster abstracts in November. Authors may submit papers and posters on a variety of different subjects, including chemistry and fundamentals, elastomers, energy efficiency, sustainability, and environment, health and safety.

"The excellent work of our authors and presenters is what makes this conference stand out from other industry events," said Duffy.

The 2014 Polyurethanes Technical Conference will take place September 22 to 24 in Dallas. For more information on next year's conference, including details on submitting a paper, please visit www.americanchemistry.com/polyurethane.
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