Impacts of Non-Traditional Uses of Polyurethane Foam in Automotive Applications at End of Life

Authors Abstract
Polyurethane (PU) foam is used for many automotive applications with the benefits of being lightweight, durable, and resistant to heat and noise. Applications of PU foams are increasing to include non-traditional purposes targeting consumer comfort. An example of this is the use of PU foam between the engine and engine cover of a vehicle for the purpose of noise abatement. This addition will provide a quieter ride for the consumer, however will have associated environmental impacts. The additional weight will cause an increase in fuel consumption and related emissions. More significant impacts may be realized at the end-of-life stage. Recycling PU foams presents several challenges; a lack of market for the recyclate, contamination of the foams, and lack of accessibility for removal of the material. PU foam pieces are likely to end up being landfilled after the vehicle is shredded, negating the benefit of choosing this material for its recyclability over another non-recyclable material. PU foams have been credited with contributing to the light weighting of vehicles, however it is important to distinguish between cases where PU foams replace heavier materials and where they are added for comfort. It is also necessary to make manufacturers aware of the gap between what is technically feasible in terms of recycling and what can be practically accomplished with present day technology and markets. As the use of PU foams increase it is imperative to address the obstacles surrounding recycling so that the benefits of these foams can be realized without negative end-of-life impacts.
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Miller, L., Sawyer-Beaulieu, S., and Tam, E., "Impacts of Non-Traditional Uses of Polyurethane Foam in Automotive Applications at End of Life," Materials and Manufacturing 7(3):711-718, 2014,
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May 5, 2014
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Journal Article