Polymer foam technology provides a way to reduce weight and material use across the wide range of applications of elastomers, thermoplastics and thermoset materials. These attributes are critical for sectors such as disposable packaging, where it is essential to minimize waste and transportation costs. Automotive and aerospace are constantly battling to find weight reductions to reduce fuel costs and CO2 emissions, therefore switching to polymers from metals, and to foams from solids can produce excellent results. Other uses are construction where pipe and profile, flooring and insulation all employ these cellular materials. AMI LLC is bringing together industry experts to discuss the latest innovations in foaming and applications at Polymer Foam 2015, at New Jersey.
The conference kicks off with an overview from the US Environmental Protection Agency of the regulations for blowing agents. This is followed by a paper from Polyfil on a revolutionary new patented chemical foaming agent for thermoplastics. Nucleation is key to the formation of cellular structure and Reedy International will describe how to increase foaming efficiency through kinetic nucleation. The properties of foams are vital to performance, therefore expertise in processing methods and selection of the right technology are very important to generate the optimum cell size and structure. Plastics Technologies is offering a process to foam PET bottles, while Kraussmaffei Berstorff is offering tandem foam extrusion lines. From the polyolefin side, Trocellen has developed foams for automotive light weight applications and the University of Bayreuth has studied the rheology and crystallization of polypropylene foamed with CO2 . There have been concerns about the flame retardants in use in polystyrene insulation and Dow Chemical has tested a replacement polymeric additive.
With the move to replace more metals with plastics, higher performance materials are in demand, hence research is advancing into foaming high temperature thermoplastics for applications such as automotive engine covers and aerospace. Syntactic foams have been developed at the New York University for use in space exploration of Mars and the Mariana Trench. The 2014 Ringier Technology Innovation Award was given to Evonik for its new polymethacrylimide (PMI) foams, which have been tested for aeroplane sandwich structures and can withstand 220C. Polyetherimide has been foamed using supercritical CO2 at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and Colorant Chromatics, Polyone, has a new chemical foaming agent for fluoropolymers to balance performance while reducing density. The University of Toronto has produced open-cell polypropylene/polytetrafluoroethylene foams for potential use as a sponge for oil absorption from water in the case of spills, looking at hydrophobic and oleophilic properties.
At the other end of the scale biodegradable plastics are being foamed as tissue scaffold materials in medical applications and pioneering work is being carried out by Professor Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Foam technology is also advancing in silicones, with Bluestar Silicones working on low density RT foams. The packaging industry is particularly aware of the need to be sustainable as products have a faster turnover. Dart Container Corporation has focused research on recycling of foamed packs, while Sulzer Chemtech has developed technology for EPS recovery. From the beginning of new technology to the end of life options for foam, AMI’s US Polymer Foam 2015 conference at the Newark airport hub for New York brings together an expert debating forum to review what’s taking off in industry.