Gerry Podesta is the chair of the steering committee for the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, which is part of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division. I recently asked him about the state of the polyurethanes industry and what to expect at CPI’s annual conference, which is next week in Phoenix. This Q-and-A has been edited and condensed.
Last year, CPI Director Lee Salamone discussed economic uncertainty, pending legislative reforms to chemicals management, and the fate of expiring tax cuts in the U.S. What is the state of the polyurethanes industry in late 2013?
One trend that had been going strong pre-economic crisis was the movement of upholstered furniture to Asia, which saw the North American market for flexible polyurethane shrink. This trend declined and with the continued growth of solid foam mattresses, the flexible polyurethane market has grown. Many innovations in this space were introduced; most notable was gel foam which continues to generate excitement.
[Meanwhile], a surge in car builds directly affected the high volume of flexible foam found in car seats, head rests, arm rests and soft instrument panels. The continually stricter gas mileage requirements brought lightweight vehicle parts to the forefront. Polyurethane composite resin systems have also grown.
Lastly, the importance of sustainable or net zero attributes are actively driving the design of residential and commercial construction. Rigid polyurethane foam remains one of the best insulation materials and continues to gain acceptance in residential spray foam, roofing systems, insulated forms and paneled wall systems.
What will be the biggest challenges during the next 12 months? What are CPI and the industry doing to address these concerns?
The first challenge is … misperceptions and myths that are raised in the media. The way to address the questions is to redouble our efforts to communicate and provide sound scientific information to the government, media and the public.
[Another challenge] is that the opportunity to sell a sustainable solution to increase a building’s energy efficiency that may have a three- or five-year payback has to be balanced with changing building and other codes requiring higher levels of insulation. Those changing codes are in turn being opposed by other stakeholders. We have an opportunity to provide our side of the story to consumers and builders.
CPI has greatly stepped up our advocacy efforts. … CPI also increased our available literature and social media presence on these topics, and provides free online chemical safety training for spray polyurethane foam. Also, we have made communication to the polyurethanes value chain and consumers about safety and health issues, as well as the benefits of our products, a top priority.
On the opportunity front, CPI continues to work with our parent organization ACC to advocate on state building code issues all over the country, like supporting more energy-efficiency initiatives.
The agenda for this year’s Technical Conference, like past ones, includes tabletop exhibitions, professional development and other types of sessions. What can attendees look forward to at the 2013 Polyurethanes Technical Conference?
The conference is a technical conference, so a lot of technology will be on display in a variety of ways. We will have our annual Innovation Award, which celebrates creativity in the industry. We will continue our well-attended Polyurethane Professional Development Program and the very lively poster sessions provide a technical walk through of polyurethane innovations. … This year we anticipate more than 50 tabletops, which is almost a mini trade show within the conference. The mainstay of the conference is of course, the technical sessions.
This year, we are also offering a new half-day workshop on environment, health and safety for use of key polyurethane raw materials.