2 December 2019

PUR/PIR Sector Challenges

Every day we experience a great deal of change, both technological and climatic, while being a part of it. As a consequence of increasing awareness of the impact of individual materials on human health, we pay attention to manufacturing processes as well as to finished products. The construction industry and the continuously growing PUR/PIR sector are challenging us every time we move forward. We are determined not only to follow the evolution, but to precede it. We prioritize the importance of safety, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations. What specific areas of development can be identified as crucial for our industries nowadays?


Up-to-date energy-efficient construction and the best λ

At the moment, innovative construction means mainly energy-efficient housing. The combination of RES, ventilation and insulation provides excellent results in the energy balance of buildings. The legislation associated with these areas, which is developing quite dynamically, acts as a catalyst for change in many countries in various sectors related to design, industry and manufacturing, as well as in construction itself. Therefore, today one of the main objectives in the rigid PUR/PIR foam industry is to achieve the optimal thermal conductivity coefficient λ.

Polyurethane/polyisocyanurate foam is presently the finest insulation material available on the construction market. It corresponds perfectly with the idea of energy-saving houses, which are built for economic reasons, significant for individual investors, as well as for environmental aspects, vital for each of us.

With the development of polyurethane foams and, consequently, products that use such foams, environmental regulations imposing restrictions on foaming agents must not be forgotten. Such substances and their innovative, more environmentally friendly versions are already being implemented in our products in various parts of the world.

Bearing in mind the requirements of contemporary construction and the current limitations of product development (from the point of view of foaming agents), the following question arises: What are the thresholds for improving the lambda coefficient of polyurethane foam? And this is the first major challenge we recognize in the industry.


PUR/PIR Sector and Functional Buildings Safety

In the construction industry, the issue of the flammability of the materials used has always been an important one. After the catastrophes that have occurred in previous years, such as the Grenfell Tower fire in London, the PUR/PIR community is making a tremendous effort to identify the best solutions, standards and methods to eliminate all flammability risks.

Well-known flame retardant additives based on current chemical knowledge have an adverse effect on the environment and therefore on humans and other living organisms. A logical consequence of such information is the challenges faced by R&D departments in designing advanced product concepts. The desire to find substitutes, on the other hand, always raises doubts about their effectiveness.

Achieving the compromise between fire safety and the lack of negative influence of agents applied in the production process on the environment and people is one more major challenge for the PUR/PIR industry.


Polyurethanes in the Waste-Management Process

Considering the industrial PUR/PIR challenges, the topic of waste cannot be ignored.  Polyurethanes, which are Polymer Plastics, are not a disposable product. Nevertheless, they need to be replaced after a longer period of exploitation. For the moment, a closed-loop economy, where polyurethane waste is recycled and reused, seems to be the best solution for the waste issue.

The Circular Economy approach also proven its worth in solving the problems with limited oil resources that we have to face in the light of the forecasts for the coming years. Raw materials such as PET or renewable materials such as vegetable oils can also be used to achieve the same goal.

The further challenges are therefore to identify the answers to questions such as:

·         How to deal with this kind of waste?  

·         In which direction will Circular Economy develop in our sector?

·         What are the best practices and solutions in this domain?

what are the PUR/PIR Sector Challenges?

Technological Developments - AI in Polyurethanes?

The polyurethane industry is not autonomous; it is interconnected with all sectors of the economy and the development of innovative technologies. There are further quite interesting challenges here: can polyurethane foam be influenced by the development of artificial intelligence? Can AI solutions change the manufacturing process? But most importantly, will AI contribute to reducing the number of errors and, for example, waste during the process?

Artificial Intelligence technology may replace some laboratory work - by experimentation and testing only through simulation and calculation.

Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine algorithms available to PUR/PIR manufacturers, especially when considering the traditional production path. However, is it really so science-fiction that in the near future artificial intelligence will support the efficiency of manufacturing, logistics and planning?

Though it may not be easy to replace for example large-scale fire tests with models or calculations, nonetheless the accuracy of such simulations will certainly increase. The crucial factor in this case will be to strike a balance between the current methods and the constantly evolving technology.

It is unquestionable that improvements are urgently needed, as they provide numerous opportunities. We are convinced that the polyurethane industry will follow them and continue to develop products with high efficiency, considering the requirements of the economy and the needs of sustainable development.

Which other issues are relevant in the PIR/PUR sector? What challenges are facing this area of industry? We will answer these questions in the following articles.


Author: Marta Pieńkowska
R&D Director


As part of her work, she successfully implements new products and technologies. In the polyurethane industry for 7 years. A graduate of Polymer Chemistry at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, co-author of industry publications and patent applications in the field of chemistry and polyurethanes. In my work, I follow the motto: "Talent wins the match, but intelligence and teamwork win the championship."