Polyurethanes are one of the most versatile plastic materials. The nature of the chemistry allows polyurethanes to be adapted to solve challenging problems, to be molded into unusual shapes and to enhance industrial and consumer products by adding comfort, warmth and convenience to our lives.
Polyurethanes are formed by reacting a polyol (an alcohol with more than two reactive hydroxyl groups per molecule) with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate in the presence of suitable catalysts and additives. Because a variety of diisocyanates and a wide range of polyols can be used to produce polyurethane, a broad spectrum of materials can be produced to meet the needs of specific applications.
It does not matter where you look, you are likely to find polyurethanes. Polyurethanes can be a found in mattresses, couches, insulation, liquid coatings and paints, tough elastomers such as roller blade wheels, soft flexible foam toys, some elastic fibers, and many other places and applications.
Polyurethane chemistry was first studied by the German chemist, Friedrich Bayer in 1937. He produced early prototypes by reacting toluene diisocyanate reacted with dihydric alcohols. From this work one of the first crystalline polyurethane fibers, Perlon U, was developed. The development of elastic polyurethanes began as a program to find a replacement for rubber during the days of World War II. In 1940, the first polyurethane elastomers were produced. These compounds gave millable gums that could be used as an adequate alternative to rubber. When scientists found that polyurethanes could be made into fine threads, they were combined with nylon to make more lightweight, stretchable garments.