“Nanofoams of this kind achieve twice the thermal insulation performance of today’s polyurethane foams, meaning that they could, for example, significantly reduce the energy consumption of refrigeration appliances and, in turn, make a major contribution to reducing CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the walls of these appliances could be of thinner design, resulting in more storage space for refrigerated goods,” explained Dr. Stefan Lindner, a polyurethane rigid foam specialist at Bayer MaterialScience.
The company is partnering on this research project with Prof. Reinhard Strey from the University of Cologne’s Institute of Physical Chemistry, who has applied for a patent on the POSME process. As part of the collaboration, his working group is engaged in optimizing the characteristics of the microemulsions.
The thermal insulation performance of a polyurethane rigid foam depends chiefly on the size of the foam pores. The smaller the diameter, the lower the thermal conductivity and the better the insulating effect. Today’s polyurethane rigid foams typically have pore sizes of roughly 150 micrometers, which exceeds the pore size of nanofoams planned for the future by a factor of approximately 1,000.
To synthesize a nanofoam using the POSME method, carbon dioxide (CO2) and the liquid polyurethane raw materials (polyol and isocyanate) are mixed with the help of special surfactants at a pressure of 200 bar to form a microemulsion consisting of nanometer-sized droplets filled with CO2 and encapsulated in surfactants. The pressure is then reduced, causing the CO2 to expand and the droplets to become bubbles still in the nanometer range. At the same time, the polyurethane raw materials react to form a 3D polymer network that is a rigid polyurethane foam
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