Biobased polyurethane in construction

Biobased polyurethane in construction

11:44 AM, 25th May 2017
Biobased polyurethane in construction
Construction industry is one of the major consumers of plastics with pipe fittings and insulation among its major applications.

Once upon a time, polyurethane was considered to be the epitome of substitution for crude-based products. But now, the industry is fervently working on bringing a greener alternative in the form of bio-based polyurethanes. The construction industry globally is fast becoming its biggest admirer.

By Debarati Das

Polyurethane has already captured the imagination and investments of various businesses across the globe. But that can’t be the end of innovation so this industry is now aiming to be a notch higher in sustainability and greener in application making way for bio-based polyurethanes.

Rising concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, rapid depletion of fossil fuel, stringent monitoring of carbon dioxide footprint in large scale manufacturing units, etc. have forced various industrial operations to constantly think about ‘just a little more’ green options.

Thanks to this rising awareness of environmental concerns there has been a voluntary participation from the industry in cutting down on the negative impacts of industrialisation on the ecosystem. And this has set the stage for a slow yet steady shift towards bio-based polymers in the market.

Major polymer manufacturers are increasingly focusing their efforts towards developing sustainable technologies to manufacture bio-based polymers. Traditionally, adipic acid, a petroleum-based product, and some other diacids are the conventional raw materials for manufacturing polyurethanes. However, biobased polyurethane is made from natural oil polyols (NOP) or biopolyols, which are derived from vegetable oils by different methods. The most common sources of natural oil polyols are castor oil, soy oil, peanut oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. Natural oil polyols have similar origins and applications but the materials are different depending on their manufacturing process. Castor oil accounts for the majority of natural oil polyol as it contains a ready hydroxyl group.

These bio-based polyurethanes are produced chemically by the reaction of bio-based polyols with synthetic diisocyanates and have a wide range of applications due to their chemical versatility and higher performance. From applications such as coating and paints, electronics, construction, automotive, housing, furniture to even shoe soles, bio-based polyurethanes are fast becoming a popular choice in many industries.

Research suggests that the physical attributes of biobased polyurethanes is strikingly similar to the traditional polyurethane manufactured from crude oil. Also, the modern customer prefers bio-based green products to traditional products obtained from petroleum as green status is fast becoming the USP for products and brands globally.

While the automotive industry has embraced the use of polyurethanes for its drive to achieve lower vehicle weight, construction industry too is exploring the opportunities that bio-based polymers offer and is becoming one of the fastest growing markets for bio-based polyurethanes. While research activities to develop eco-friendly renewable products is one of the key growth drivers of these polymers, high production costs and less developed global supply value chain are expected to hinder the growth of these polymers in the construction industry.

However, a general global movement towards controlling the carbon counts and taking hold of the deteriorating environmental conditions has led to the establishment of several organisations and government bodies to implement rules and regulations creating a favourable scenario for biopolymers market to grow.

Going greener with polyurethane 

According to Grand View Research, biobased polyurethanes as insulation in the building and construction industry shows significant growth opportunity particularly in the US and Europe. Polylactic acid (PLA) and Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are expected to witness the fastest growth in the biobased polymer industry due to its numerous advantages over other products.

PLA, a bio-derived monomer, is increasingly being used as a suspending agent, foam, pore-forming agent, binder and coating adhesive in the construction industry. PHA produced from microorganism is used as a coating, viscosifier, and pore-forming agent. Bio based epoxies market is also expected to witness moderate growth due to its wide range of applications in the construction industry such as in paints & coatings, adhesives, and in wood & concrete repair. The other bio-based polymers that are being used worldwide include Polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT) and Polybutylene succinate (PBS).

The construction industry is one of the major consumers of plastics with pipe fittings and insulation among its major applications. Bio-based polyurethane thus has major opportunity in this segment as a preferred alternative offering additional advantages such as reduced cost structures, long life span, corrosion resistance and light weight.

Biobased construction polymers will increasingly be used in window and door profiles, pipes and guttering, cement, flooring, glazing, sealants and adhesives, insulation, building panels and roofing.

Apart from residential and commercial constructions, there has been an overall increase in the infrastructure development as well where biobased polymers can be effectively used. There is a growing trend of using biobased polymer in profiles used in bridge engineering for all composite structures. It is also being used in other applications such as bridge bearings, FRP bridge section, glazing sealant, concrete moulds, concrete jointing, cladding panel, and floorings anchor fixings.

Demographic Growth

There has been a unanimous global inclination towards green products and sustainable development which has made bio-based alternatives for crude oil the need of the day. While the global bio-based polyurethane business is still in its nascent stage, increasing awareness about the benefits offered by bio-based products is making it acceptable by various industry segments assuring an exponential growth in the future.

In 2015, the construction industry was the largest end-user of bio-based polyurethane. Reports suggest that countries including the US, China and India alone are likely to account for 60 percent of the global construction industry by 2025 making them the potential markets for bio-based polymers in these regions.

While the US and Europe have been a significant market for the growing bio-based polymers, this growth is expected to be surpassed by the demand arising from emerging markets like Asia Pacific and South America. Increasing infrastructure activities and rapid urbanisation coupled with favourable regulatory environment for bio based products in countries such as China, India and Brazil are anticipated to be the key markets of growth.

Matured markets such as North America and Europe are expected to have moderate growth to due to less infrastructural activities taking place in these regions. The GCC nations have also witnessed a tremendous growth over few years. While Middle East, Saudi Arabia dominate the construction market in this region, continued investments and favourable government regulations in bio-based polyurethane has caused a robust growth in the region.

Although, polyurethanes has been a preferred alternative over plastic, metal and steel in numerous industries, the volatile crude oil market is a restraint for traditional polyurethanes as it affects the pricing and market competitiveness. Bio based polyurethanes is however not affected by the global price fluctuations and is a better alternative both financially and environmentally for manufacturers and consumers alike. However, high cost of research and developmental activities, high processing cost and complex manufacturing process compared to synthetic polyurethanes is expected to hinder the bio-based polyurethanes market.

On the larger front, the use of bio-based polyurethanes is not just about cutting down carbon footprints but it will also help sustain profitability and retain high performance and durability in the global market in the future.

© Chemical Today Magazine

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