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issue: December 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Technology Report
Polyurethane Foam System


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Foam Supplies, Inc. (St. Louis, MO, U.S.) has developed a new family of rigid polyurethane systems that utilizes an alternative blowing agent.


According to Foam Supplies, its new ecomate(TM) product offers the advantages of both HFCs or hydrocarbon technology. "The main benefit of an HFC blowing agent is its thermal efficiency. The main benefit of a hydrocarbon system is the price. ecomate is in the unique situation of achieving HFC-like thermal efficiencies at the cost of hydrocarbons," notes Tim Kalinowski, president.
After 3 years of laboratory and field testing, Foam Supplies says it has developed an EPA-SNAP-approved product called ecomate(TM), which reportedly has zero ozone depletion potential (NON-ODP) and no global warming potential (NON-GWP).

According to the company, tests have demonstrated that ecomate is an ideal HCFC-141b replacement, includes thermal efficiency equal to or better than HCFC-22 and HFC-134a systems, and requires minimal or no equipment, plant, or production changes.

Due to imposed global regulatory and environmental mandates, the company says that the polyurethane industry is looking for a manufacturer-friendly solution that will comply with the Montreal and Kyoto protocols for rigid polyurethane foam systems. "Zero ODP and GWP is not something we achieved or developed," notes Tim Kalinowski, president of Foam Supplies. "Simply put, we recognized the necessity, from a regulatory standpoint, of a blowing agent that would not be subject to future phaseouts, and we kept looking until we found one."

In addition to being a solution to existing problems facing the industry, Mr. Kalinowski adds that the largest benefit ecomate offers manufacturers is that it doesn't create additional problems like many other options on the market. "The properties of ecomate systems are so comparable with currently accepted blowing agent options that you don't need to necessarily overcome a new problem simply by using it," he explains. "To cite several examples - there isn't an increased cost issue created by using ecomate, and thermal efficiency testing has proved ecomate is comparable to HCFC-22 and HFC-134a systems, so there isn't a thickness problem. All the physical properties, right down the line, are close enough to current systems that you don't have to sacrifice something in order to use ecomate."

Another one of ecomate's major features is its thermal efficiency, a benefit that Foam Supplies says it worked hard to achieve. "Thermal efficiency is not simply a k-factor of the blowing agent. The key is the chemistry surrounding the gas," notes Mr. Kalinowski. "If you can formulate a cellular product that retards the migration of gases from one side of the cross-section to another, you will also minimize the heat transfer. That is precisely what we did, by enhancing properties like cell size, density of cells, and thickness of cell walls."

According to the company, the new blowing agent technology eliminates the need for manufacturers to make equipment, plant, or product changes, whereas some options - such as pentane-based systems - will require companies to make costly modifications to foaming areas, machinery, and ventilation. "Once again, we recognized the importance, early on, of having formulations that would process through all types of equipment in the field. The three main issues are viscosity, solubility, and blowing efficiency," explains Mr. Kalinowski. "Our formulations will process through high-pressure equipment, but they are thin enough that they will also process through low-pressure equipment without sacrificing mix."

Currently, ecomate is being used in low-temperature appliance applications such as refrigerators, drink dispensers, and ice machines, but Mr. Kalinowski adds, "we have yet to run a trial where we did not qualify."

 

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