Lee Salamone is the director of the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, which is part of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division. I recently asked her about the state of the polyurethanes industry and what to expect at CPI’s annual conference, which is next week in Atlanta.
When we talked last year, we discussed how the polyurethane industry’s flexibility was helpful in weathering the recession. What is the state of the polyurethanes industry in late 2012? What will be the biggest challenges during the next 12 months?
As the economy continues a slow recovery, industry seems cautiously optimistic in 2012, but remains concerned about the impact of the global economy. While some companies have closed or consolidated facilities, others have expanded capacity in certain areas. So the varying sectors of the broader polyurethanes industry are looking at 2012 in different ways.
The spray polyurethane foam market shows steady progress. The Spray Foam Coalition’s spray foam statistics program shows growth in the overall spray foam sector, with sales up 29% from the first half of 2010 to the first half of 2012. We believe that the SFC statistics reflect that energy-conscious consumers and commercial building owners continue to use SPF.
Uncertainty is a primary challenge that the industry faces in 2013. There is uncertainty surrounding the economic recovery, pending legislative reforms to chemicals management, and the fate of expiring tax cuts in the U.S.
The agenda for this year’s Technical Conference, like past ones, includes tabletop exhibitions, professional development and other types of sessions. Is there a particular component most attendees look forward to most?
The Industry Reception is always one of the most popular events at the Polyurethanes Technical Conference. It’s become a unique opportunity in North America to connect with industry leaders, see colleagues and customers, and hear all the latest news about the industry in a festive, social setting. The 63 technical presentations we have this year are the heart of the conference. Attendees can discover cutting-edge advances in chemistry, technology and products that are driving the industry during the conference’s technical sessions.
The Polyurethanes Professional Development Program is an excellent education and training opportunity for the global polyurethanes industry. The PDP is a way to provide continuing education to professionals or an introduction to the industry for new entrants from some of the most experienced PU professionals in the country. The program is an amazing value.
What role does polyurethanes have to play as sustainability continues to become more mainstream?
Polyurethane products are major contributors to energy efficiency. For example, in building and construction:
- Rigid polyurethane and polyisocyanurate (polyiso) foams create one of the world’s most popular, energy-efficient and versatile insulations. These foams can significantly cut energy costs while making commercial and residential properties more efficient and comfortable.
- These foams are effective insulation materials that can be used in roof and wall insulation, insulated windows, doors and air barrier sealants.
- Spray polyurethane foam, which performs as both insulation and an air sealant, or air barrier, closes gaps and leaks that let air escape.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program estimates that by adding insulation and sealing air leaks, you could save up to 20% on your monthly energy bills.
Polyurethanes are also used to help reduce vehicle weight, which can improve fuel efficiency. For example, seat frames made from molded polyurethane foams can be 35% lighter than metal-stamped frames. And polyurethane and epoxy systems are used in bumpers for their good strength-to-weight ratio. In addition, polyurethanes contribute to door panels, bumpers, exterior panels, coatings and adhesives, cable jackets for protection, brake tubes, gaskets, and tire fill for fixing flat tires. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its final rule for Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for model years 2017 and beyond. These new CAFE standards will almost certainly provide additional opportunities for plastics, including polyurethane, to continue to develop lightweight, strong materials for improved fuel efficiency and enhanced vehicle comfort.
Overall, polyurethanes will undoubtedly continue to innovate and provide solutions for energy efficiency and sustainability. We’ll see some of those advancements front and center at the conference.
The Innovation Award, given during the conference, shows the importance of new developments, products and insights in the industry. Is there an area of the industry that shows particular promise right now as an innovation star?
Bio-based materials are certainly one area of polyurethanes innovation to watch, as are blowing agents and spray polyurethane foam.