Green Solutions for the Polyurethane Industry

Industrial floor coatings, are necessary for protecting substrates such as steel and concrete and are used by most industries. The process of application starts with a top coat to ensure corrosion protection with additional coatings that can be applied to avoid rust and create shimmer for a pleasant visual appeal. By coating the floor of an airport hangar or industrial warehouse it becomes much easier to keep clean from dust and debris, but the main goal is to avoid steel and concrete corrosion.

While coatings are not confined to industrial use only, they play a large role in protecting the majority of industries including: industrial and commercial buildings, civil applications for tunnels and bridges, private and public garages, chemical and food processing plants, warehouses, monolithic flooring for civil industrial and military engineering, marine and aeronautic applications, industrial equipment for dairy and liquid fertilizer processing plants and delivery systems and protective coatings inside industrial and commercial pipes.

Although these coatings have been in use for several decades, they have recently been under scrutiny as their primary ingredient is polyurethane, which contains toxic isocyanates. Polyurethane is prevalent in just about every corner of your house and car and is typically classified into four market segments as listed below:

1. C.A.S.E. (Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants and Elastomers)
2. Thermoplastics (highly elastic, flexible and abrasion resistant polyurethane)
3. Rigid Foam (used as packaging material, building insulation, etc.)
4. Flexible Foam (in bedding, furniture, car interiors, and running shoes)

Industrial floor coatings can be found in the C.A.S.E. market as mentioned above and several studies have now identified several negative side effects of working with polyurethane such as dizziness, headaches and vomiting. As a result regulatory authorities like the Environmental Protection Agency have recently stepped up demands for businesses to begin using alternatives to polyurethane for industrial coatings. Fortunately major developments in polyurethane alternatives have recently created safer “green” products that can now be applied with no side effects and at a significant price reduction, especially in the European Union.

The $3.5 billion European Union polyurethane coatings market is of particular interest because of the high demand and the overhaul of the EU’s chemical regulatory system. Regulations were drafted in 1998 and finally adopted and put into force in June 2007, which show a major shift and place a greater burden of proof on the industry that chemicals are safe. Substances of very high concern must be authorized under the new laws and their use may be subject to restrictions. Isocyanates used in making polyurethane are highly toxic and require expensive worker safety and handling procedures. As a result, a general movement towards greener products combined with the new regulations has accelerated projected growth in the EU market for less toxic alternatives. The United States is now following suit and hopes to see regulations on toxic floor coatings within the next 5 years.

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