New reactive catalyst for low VOCs with good properties available soon
By Liz White
Developing new products is “at the heart of our strategy,” said Steven Hulme, Air Products’ global marketing manager for polyurethane chemicals.
In low-emission products, for example, Air Products is about to launch a new reactive catalyst to give foams based on TDI (toluene diisocyanate) with better emissions.
“This is a significant step change for foamers,” Hulme claimed, and will enable them to meet tough emissions tests such as the Daimler one – VDA 278 270.
Air Products has also made many new amine molecule registrations globally in recent years: “Something we have not seen from any other competitor for multiple years,” Hulme claimed.
But bringing new chemicals to market entails significant costs, Hulme stressed. “One of the largest challenges we face is the time and costs [for testing] associated with global registrations.” For a new molecule, this can be more than $1.5 million. “So we need to be sure of a new molecule’s performance before committing to commercialisation,” he stressed.
“An additives supplier needs to be sure that there is a true market driver there,” to launch a new material, he said in a 7 Sept interview at UTECH Asia in Shanghai, China.
To register a new material under REACH, the EU’s chemical regulation, is time consuming and expensive, and the same applies in China, and Japan.
Air Products is proactive here, said Hulme, who was based in China for several years, and is now working from the UK. But he noted that there are circumstances where “market pull is essential.”
Registrations for the molecules that make up the company’s current commercial non-fugitive catalyst platform (including Dabco NE1070/ NE300) are good examples of this commitment to the PU industry, and distinguish Air Products from other catalyst suppliers, he claimed.
Air Products also continues to develop new silicone surfactants which, due to their polymer structure, are often exempt from registration, he said.
Three major additives players
There are more than 30 PU additive suppliers in the market today, Hulme said, noting that the top three — Evonik, Momentive and Air Products — have a large share of the market.
Hulme pointed out that a lot of Air Products’ customers are major global groups, for example seat foam suppliers for the automotive sector.
In China, the materials used in seat foam will depend on the OEM in question, with local ones tending to use TDI-based foams and the cheapest available technology, Hulme commented.
TDI gives lower density foams, and that is good for comfort, and low weight, but in Europe, the demands for non-fugitive emissions have tended to drive selection of MDI-based foams.
Hulme said that a lot of viscoelastic (VE) foam is made in China for export, and this can be a challenge, and he was quite surprised to see requirements for non-fugitive catalysts for VE foam, since VE requires a greater amount of catalyst.
Increasing standards in the west for high-quality flexible foams with low emissions is in part driven by the standards set by Europur, the flexible slabstock foamers association, through its CertiPur quality label, and by the US equivalent, CertiPur-US, from the Polyurethane Foam Association, Hulme said.
Air Products was asked very early on by customers for help in complying with the CertiPur scheme, he commented.
Hulme said Air Product’s customers in China cover a wide range, from the multinationals that demand the same non-fugitive emission products they use in the west, all the way to local processors with relatively basic needs.
Some of these are “very focused on costs.” It is challenging to supply the Chinese market because of its highly diverse nature, he added.
Development of low-emission additives has been an ongoing project within Air Products for over 20 years, and Hulme claims the company is “one of the first to introduce non-fugitive products that helped our customers meet the various odour, PVC staining and emission tests in place with OEMs today.”
The largest challenge has been to meet physical property standards, specifically humid ageing demands. Many of the approaches to solving catalyst emissions have relied on reactive catalysts (with active NH or OH groups) that bond into the PU matrix.
One well known issue here is that with such catalysts physical properties are poorer, Hulme said.
Hulme feels Air Product’s competitive advantage is that, during the past 10 years, it has “developed products and formulation know-how that are best-in-class with respect to physical property management.”
He noted that there is still room for improvement, especially in TDI foams, adding that the company expects to launch its new range of catalysts referred to earlier within the next months. “That will be a significant improvement in this area.”
The initial interest in non-fugitive materials came from automotive manufacturers in Europe but has spread to other uses such as slabstock and spray foam. The need for these products then expanded globally as European OEMs globalised their businesses, Hulme said.
Major mattress and furniture producers in Asia rely on export to Western countries and higher standards in those markets has meant the Asian producers have had to keep up with the technology, Hulme pointed out.
There are mixed signals as to whether other OEMs will follow the lead of European ones in establishing stringent tests for emissions.
Most US automotive manufacturers have had a gravimetric fogging specification for several years. Hulme noted, “We have noticed a significant increase in the level at which the OEMs are currently enforcing these specs.”
This could signal a step by US OEMs towards more stringent emissions specifications. One trend is that as more European and Asian transplants are manufacturing in the US-and maintaining their strict emissions specifications globally, American foam manufacturers are becoming more skilled and comfortable using low-emission technology to supply these transplants
This may lead seating manufacturers to proactively offer lower-emission foam products to US OEMs as well, to simplify their manufacturing.
In China, there is a government directive and some local OEMs have their own standards in recent years but again they are less stringent than some European standards.
In Korea, the OEMs have standards similar to Europe. In Japan, there are standards at most OEMs based on initial directives from JAMA (Japanese Automotive Manufacturers Association).These are quite different to other standards in that they look at cabin air quality and specify maximum limits for various VOCs (including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, styrene amongst others). The list does not include amines.
“Our businesses in the Americas, Asia and EMEA are equally important,” with Asia providing the largest growth rates, Hulme said. Growth rates are lower in the European and North American regions but innovation opportunities continue to provide attractive growth. The emerging markets of Eastern Europe. Russia, the Middle East and Brazil will provide further growth opportunities, he said.