Introduction to Polyurethanes: History
Polyurethanes can be found in liquid coatings and paints, tough elastomers such as roller blade wheels, rigid insulation, soft flexible foam, elastic fiber or as an integral skin. No matter how polyurethane is transformed, the underlying chemistry is the result of one man’s genius, Prof. Dr. Otto Bayer (1902-1982). Prof. Dr. Otto Bayer is recognized as the “father” of the polyurethanes industry for his invention of the basic diisocyanate polyaddition process.
The origin of polyurethane dates back to the beginning of World War II, when it was first developed as a replacement for rubber. The versatility of this new organic polymer and its ability to substitute for scarce materials spurred numerous applications. During World War II, 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.
By the end of the war, polyurethane coatings were being manufactured and used on an industrial scale and could be custom formulated for specific applications. By the mid-50’s, polyurethanes could be found in coatings and adhesives, elastomers and rigid foams. It was not until the late-50’s that comfortable cushioning flexible foams were commercially available. With the development of a low-cost polyether polyol, flexible foams opened the door to the upholstery and automotive applications we know today.
Formulations, additives and processing techniques continue to be developed, such as reinforced and structural moldings for exterior automotive parts and one-component systems. Today, polyurethanes can be found in virtually everything we touch—desks, chairs, cars, clothes, footwear, appliances, beds as well as the insulation in our walls and roof and moldings on our homes.