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An introduction to the chemistry of polyurethane rubbers.

Professor Dr. Otto Bayer Otto Bayer (1902–1982) was a German industrial chemist who in 1937 discovered how to make useful polyurethane plastics out of polyisocyanate and polyol. During his brilliant career, Dr. Bayer ascended to the chairmanship of the german chemical giant, Bayer Corp.  in Leverkusen, Germany invented the first polyurethane elastomer elastomer (ĭlăs`təmər), substance having to some extent the elastic properties of natural rubber. The term is sometimes used technically to distinguish synthetic rubbers and rubberlike plastics from natural rubber.  in 1937. In the 1950s the rubber, and particularly the tire industry, encouraged their colleagues in the chemical plants to make polyurethane elastomers feasible for rubber applications. U.S. Rubber and Bayer started joint developments for treads by using an ether-based peroxide crosslinked polyurethane rubber. DuPont started similar developments on ether-based sulfur crosslinked polyurethane elastomers.

At the end of that decade, U.S. Rubber (later to become Uniroyal) started the production of ITVE ITVE International Television Expert Group (industry forum)
ITVE Integrated Test and Verification Environment
 Vibrathane, which later became Vibrathane 5003, 5004. DuPont started Adiprene C and Bayer Desmophen A, an ester-based, isocyanate i·so·cy·a·nate
Any of a family of nitrogenous chemicals that are used in industry and can cause respiratory disorders, especially asthma, if inhaled.
 crosslinked polyurethane rubber, and Urepan E, an ester-based, peroxide crosslinkable polyurethane rubber.

In the 60s, an inflation of millable polyurethane was clearly visible. General Tire The General Tire and Rubber Company is an American manufacturer of tires for motor vehicles.

General Tire was founded in 1915 in Akron, Ohio by William F. O'Neil. In 1943 General Tire branched out from its core business by purchasing the Yankee Network and the radio stations
 started the production of their ester peroxide grades under the name of Genthane. Goodyear and Michelin introduced their ester sulfur grades under the names of Chemigum and Gurane. American Cyanamid American Cyanamid was a large, diversified, American chemical manufacturer. Lederle Laboratories, maker of Centrum and Stresstabs vitamins, was Cyanamid's pharmaceutical division. Davis & Geck was the company's medical device division.  started to produce their ester sulfur grade Cynaprene VG. Thiokol introduced their ester and caprolactone-based, sulfur crosslinkable grades under the name Elastothane, while Witco developed Fomrez MG - a sulfur curable cur·a·ble
Capable of being cured or healed.
 TDI/polyester. Bayer established a range of four Urepan grades, all based on esters, two of which were isocyanate crosslinkable and the others were cured with peroxide.

All these products faced processing problems, and very often the overall properties were not as expected.

The production process was also very difficult, which resulted in a very inconsistent material, and because of this Michelin and General Tire halted the production of their millable polyurethanes in the 70s. They were to be followed by American Cyanamid, Witco and Thiokol.

In this decade, TSE See Tokyo Stock Exchange.


1. See Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE).

2. See Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE).
 Industries started the production of their millable polyurethanes under the name Millathane. DuPont sold their Adiprene business around 1986 to Uniroyal. There are only three producers of millable polyurethane rubber who still produce in the western world, Uniroyal, Bayer and TSE Industries. TSE is the world's largest producer of polyurethane rubber, followed by Bayer and Uniroyal.

Does a real requirement for polyurethane rubber exist?

During recent years, we have witnessed a vast development of new special polymers, i.e., hydrogenated acrylonitrile acrylonitrile /ac·ry·lo·ni·trile/ (ak?ri-lo-ni´tril) a colorless halogenated hydrocarbon used in the making of plastics and as a pesticide; its vapors are irritant to the respiratory tract and eyes, may cause systemic poisoning, and are  butadiene rubber (HNBR HNBR Hydrogenated Acrylonitrile-Butadiene Rubber ), epichlorhydrin rubber (ECO E·co   , Umberto Born 1932.

Italian writer best known for his novels, including The Name of the Rose (1981). He has also written extensively on semiotics and British and American popular culture.
), new peroxide crosslinkable fluoro-rubbers and others. By having a choice of these new polymers, in addition to all the old well-known synthetic rubbers, we have to ask ourselves whether a real requirement for polyurethane rubber exists? Today, more than ever before, the answer is a clear yes.

Not only are specific requirements becoming increasingly tough (i.e., oil and fuel resistance, heat stability, low temperature flexibility, high hardness, etc.), but there is a growing demand for technical parts with an outstanding balance of overall properties.

By using the full range of polyurethane rubber, it is possible to achieve:

* Mechanical properties such as abrasion resistance and tensile strength far superior to all other known natural or synthetic rubbers;

* hardness from 25 A to 60 D;

* oil and fuel resistance better than NBR NBR Number
NBR Nightly Business Report (PBS show)
NBR National Business Review (New Zealand weekly business newspaper)
NBR National Bureau of Asian Research
NBR National Board of Review
 or HNBR;

* gas permeation as low as butyl rubber;

* ozone resistance as good as EPDM EPDM Ethylene-Propylene-Diene-Monomer
EPDM Enterprise Product Data Management
EPDM Ethylene Propylene Dimonomer (industrial/commercial piping/plumbing components)
EPDM Engineering Product Data Management

* heat resistance up to 110 [degrees] C; 150 [degrees] C intermittent; and

* low temperature flexibility down to -55 [degrees] C.

Difference of polyurethane to other PU elastomers As with all polyurethane elastomers, polyurethane rubber is based on the three main ingredients: polyol, isocyanate and chain extenders. Polyols are either polytetramethylene ether glycols or polyester adipates. On the isocyanate side, a wide variety of aromatic or aliphatic aliphatic /al·i·phat·ic/ (al?i-fat´ik) pertaining to any member of one of the two major groups of organic compounds, those with a straight or branched chain structure.

 isocyanates is suitable, and chain extenders can be ethyleneglycol, butanediol, glycerol-monoallylether, trimethylolpropane-monoallylether or even water (ref. 1). Usually, polyurethane elastomers are produced with a final stoichiometric stoi·chi·om·e·try  
1. Calculation of the quantities of reactants and products in a chemical reaction.

2. The quantitative relationship between reactants and products in a chemical reaction.
 equivalence of NCO NCO
noncommissioned officer

NCO noncommissioned officer

NCO n abbr (Mil) (= noncommissioned officer) → Uffz. 
 to NCO-reactive (OH) groups (ref. 2).

Cast polyurethane pre-polymer systems are made by reacting polyol with a surplus of isocyanate in order to be liquid during processing. Then, during final processing, the material is mixed with chain extenders to reach stoichiometric equivalence.

Thermoplastic A polymer material that turns to liquid when heated and becomes solid when cooled. There are more than 40 types of thermoplastics, including acrylic, polypropylene, polycarbonate and polyethylene.  polyurethanes are mostly produced in one step with a slight excess of isocyanate (NCO) versus the combined OH number of polyol and chain extender See Media Center Extender, bus extender and DOS extender. .

Polyurethane rubber is produced with a final stoichiometric deficiency of isocyanates in order to obtain the necessary millable state. Polyurethane rubber is therefore in need of further crosslinking or vulcanization vulcanization (vŭl'kənəzā`shən), treatment of rubber to give it certain qualities, e.g., strength, elasticity, and resistance to solvents, and to render it impervious to moderate heat and cold.  (ref. 3).

Diversification of polyurethane rubber

Polyurethane rubbers can be classified in accordance to either the chemical base or the type of vulcanization.

As polyols, either polytetramethylene ether glycol glycol (glī`kōl), dihydric alcohol in which the two hydroxyl groups are bonded to different carbon atoms; the general formula for a glycol is (CH2)n(OH)2.  ([C.sub.4] ethers based on polytetrahydrofurane) or polyester adipates (based on adipic acid and diols like ethandiol, butanediol, methylpropanediol, hexanediol, neopentylglycol, cyclohexanedimethanol, etc.) can be used (ref. 4).

The careful selection of diol/glycol and the molar ratio of glycol-blends influence the final properties of the polyurethane rubber vulcanizate dramatically. Some examples of this include: ethylene glycol ethylene glycol: see glycol.
ethylene glycol

Simplest member of the glycol family, also called 1,2-ethanediol (HOCH2CH2OH). It is a colourless, oily liquid with a mild odour and sweet taste.
 gives excellent oil and fuel resistance, but a poor hydrolysis hydrolysis (hīdrŏl`ĭsĭs), chemical reaction of a compound with water, usually resulting in the formation of one or more new compounds.  resistance; butanediol or even better methylpropanediol give outstanding low temperature properties; hexanediol leads to a good hydrolysis and heat resistance; cyclohexanedimethanol brings outstanding gas impermeability im·per·me·a·ble  
Impossible to permeate: an impermeable membrane; an impermeable border.

 (ref. 6), etc.

Also, the right molar ratio of glycol blends is extremely important. As an example, a blend of ethylene and butylene bu·tyl·ene  
Any of three gaseous isomeric ethylene hydrocarbons, C4H8, used principally in making synthetic rubbers.
 can make a polyurethane rubber with a nicely balanced chemical resistance and low temperature behavior. But be careful. At a molar ratio of approximately 70:30 or higher for the ethylene part, the soft segment will crystallize crys·tal·lize also crys·tal·ize  
v. crys·tal·lized also crys·tal·ized, crys·tal·liz·ing also crys·tal·iz·ing, crys·tal·liz·es also crys·tal·iz·es
 at even moderate low temperatures and is not usable for many applications (ref. 7).

The diisocyanate component is either aromatic diisocyanates like methylene diphenyl diisocyanate Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, most often abbreviated as MDI, is an aromatic diisocyanate. It exists in three isomers, 2,2'-MDI, 2,4'-MDI, and 4,4'-MDI. The 4,4' isomer is most practically useful, and is also known as Pure MDI.  (MDI (1) (Multiple Document Interface) A Windows function that allows an application to display and lets the user work with more than one document at the same time. ) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI TDI - Transport Driver Interface ) or aliphatic diisocyanate like dicyclohexylmethane diisocyanates ([H.sub.12]MDI) or TMXDI (tetramethylxylene diisocyanate) which is a light stable isocyanate where the isocyanate groups are separated from the aromatic ring aromatic ring,
n closed ring structure formed by six carbon atoms, with a single hydrogen atom attached to each one. Also called a
phenyl ring or a
benzene ring.
 by methylene groups.

Aromatic diisocyanates provide the better mechanical strength, whereas aliphatic diisocyanates give better heat and hydrolysis resistance.

Aliphatic diisocyanates are also necessary if a light and color stable vulcanizate is intended to be produced (i.e., transparent outsoles for athletic footwear (ref. 8).

Chain extenders are of low molecular weight like ethylene glycol, 1,4-butanediol, hydroquinone hydroquinone /hy·dro·quin·one/ (hi?dro-kwi-non´) the reduced form of quinone, used topically as a skin depigmenting agent.

 bis(2-hydroxy-ethyl)ether, glycerolmonoallylether, trimethylolpropane-monoallylether or water. Again, the amount and type of chain extender influences the properties and the processing behavior of the polyurethane rubber substantially. Water, for an example, not just chain extends, but also incorporates urea groups which give a good solvent resistance.

Vulcanization of polyurethane rubber

The vulcanization of polyurethane rubber leads to crosslinking between molecular chains, which results in a network structure. This resembles the concept of other vulcanized rubbers, but compared to other polyurethane elastomers, to a smaller number of urethane urethane (yoor´ithān´),
n ethyl carbamate used as an anesthetic agent for laboratory animals, formerly used as a hypnotic in humans.
 groups. These urethane groups form hydrogen bonds and contribute substantially to improved mechanical strength. For this reason, most polyurethane rubbers require the addition of active fillers like carbon blacks or silicas, which reinforce polyurethane rubbers in the same manner as with other rubbers.

Sulfur vulcanization requires unsaturated unsaturated /un·sat·u·rat·ed/ (un-sach´ur-at?ed)
1. not holding all of a solute which can be held in solution by the solvent.

2. denoting compounds in which two or more atoms are united by double or triple bonds.
 components to be built into the structure of polyurethane rubbers. This is done by using OH functional compounds with a double bond as chain extenders, i.e., glycerolmonoallylether (GAE GAE Grant Aided Expenditure (UK)
GAE Georgia Association of Educators
GAE Granulomatous Amoebic Encephalitis
GAE General American English (language studies)
GAE Generic Application Environment
) or trimethylpropane-monoallylether (TMPMAE).

Of all isocyanates, only MDI as a constituent of the macromolecule macromolecule, term that may refer either to a crystal such as a diamond, in which the atoms are identical and held by covalent bonds (see chemical bond) of equal strength, or to one of the units that compose a polymer.  is a suitable co-reactant for peroxide vulcanization; here we get radical formations through the central methylene group.

Polyurethane rubbers based on other isocyanates, i.e., aliphatic isocyanates, require unsaturation for peroxide vulcanization. Opposite to sulfur vulcanization, only small amounts of unsaturation are sufficient. As with all synthetic rubbers, the higher the polymeric backbone's saturation, the higher the heat and oxidation resistance will be.

A different approach is the isocyanate vulcanization of polyurethane rubbers. Here we see a chain extension through the hydroxyl hydroxyl /hy·drox·yl/ (hi-drok´sil) the univalent radical OH.

The univalent radical or group OH, a characteristic component of bases, certain acids, phenols, alcohols, carboxylic
 end groups, plus a crosslinking through formation of allophanate or biuret structures. This provides outstanding mechanical strengths and very high elasticity, even at very high hardness (refs. 5 and 9).

Properties of polyurethane rubbers

All polyurethane rubbers provide outstanding mechanical strengths and a high chemical resistance, but depending on the requirements of the final vulcanized vul·ca·nize  
tr.v. vul·ca·nized, vul·ca·niz·ing, vul·ca·niz·es
To improve the strength, resiliency, and freedom from stickiness and odor of (rubber, for example) by combining with sulfur or other additives in the presence of heat
 parts and the processing equipment, the appropriate polyurethane rubber grade has to be chosen carefully. Generally, ether-based polyurethane rubber provides an excellent hydrolysis resistance, but poorer heat resistance, while ester based polyurethanes are typical for their outstanding oil and fuel resistance.

Peroxide vulcanization gives the best heat resistance and the lowest compression set. Sulfur vulcanization allows a wide processing flexibility and the isocyanate vulcanization is used for the production of higher hardness vulcanizates.

Table 1 gives an overview of some commercially available polyurethane rubber grades, their chemical basis and type of crosslink. Table 2 shows their key properties, and table 3 their main applications.
Table 1 - commercial grades of PU rubber-chemical base

Type                      Chemical base            Vulcanization

Polyester/MDI             Ethylene                 Peroxide
                          adipate and methylene
                          diphenyl diisocyanate

Polyester/TDI             Ethylene/propylene       Sulfur,
                          glycol adipate and       peroxide
                          toluene diisocyanate

Polyester/[H.sub.12]MDI   Hexanediol/neopentyl     Sulfur,
                          glycol adipate and       peroxide

Polyether/TDI             Polytetramethylene       Sulfur,
                          glycol and toluene       peroxide

Polyether/[H.sub.12]MDI   Polytetramethylene       Peroxide
                          glycol and

Polyester/ISO             Diethylene glycol        Isocyanate
                          adipate and toluene
                          diisocyanate and water

Polyether/ISO             Polytetramethylene       Isocyanate
                          glycol and toluene
                          diisocyanate and
Table 2 - product type - key properties

Grade               Hardness                Service temp.

Polyester/MDI      40 to 85 A   -40 [degrees] C to +140 [degrees] C
Polyester/TDI      25 to 85 A   -30 [degrees] C to +100 [degrees] C
 [H.sub.12]MDI     40 to 85 A   -35 [degrees] C to +150 [degrees] C
Polyester/ISO    70 A to 60 D   -35 [degrees] C to +100 [degrees] C
Polyether/TDI      35 to 85 A    -40 [degrees] C to +90 [degrees] C
 [H.sub.12]MDI     50 to 85 A    -40 [degrees] C to +90 [degrees] C
Polyether/ISO    70 A to 60 D   -40 [degrees] C to +100 [degrees] C

                 Oil/fuel   Hydrolysis     Mech.
Grade              res.        res.      strength

Polyester/MDI        +++            +        +++
Polyester/TDI        +++         -(*)        +++
 [H.sub.12]MDI       +++        +(**)         ++
Polyester/ISO        +++         -(*)        +++
Polyether/TDI          +          +++        +++
 [H.sub.12]MDI         +          +++         ++
Polyether/ISO         ++          +++        +++

(*) with addition of polycarbodiimide

(**) with addition of polycarbodiimide

- poor

+ fair

++ good

+++ excellent
Table 3 - application examples

Grade           Application examples

Polyester/MDI   Oil-, fuel- and heat-resistant molded
                parts like seals, gaskets, o-rings, membranes,
                dust covers, mounts, bearings
                and belts for the automotive industry
                and other hyrdaulic or pneumatic applications
                and paper handling rolls, flippers
                and belts for office machines.

Polyester/TDI   Oil-, fuel- and solvent-resistant molded
                parts and rollers with exceptional
                mechanical strength even at very low
                hardness, i.e., printing rollers, bottle
                grippers, can tester pads, etc.

Polyester/      Oil- and fuel-resistant seals, rollers and
[H.sub.12]MDI   belts to perform in hot and humid environments,
                i.e. poly V-belts, timing belts.

Polyester/ISO   High hardness molded parts and rollers
                with exceptional oil-, fuel- and
                solvent-resistance and high mechanical
                strength, i.e., oil seals, bearings,
                bushings, ceramic tile dies, etc.

Polyether/TDI   Hydrolysis resistant molded parts and
                rollers with high mechanical strength
                and abrasion resistance, i.e., rollers,
                wear- and tear-protective parts and
                conveyor belts for many industrial

Polyether/      Glass clear and light stable elastomeric
[H.sub.12]MDI   parts with excellent abrasion resistance
                and outstanding wet and dry traction,
                i.e., skate rollers and athletic shoe soles.

Polyether/ISO   Rubber roll coverings and molded parts
                in high hardness with exceptional
                mechanical strength and hydrolysis
                resistance, highest tear- and cut-resistance
                of all known synthetic or natural
                rubbers, rollers for paper-, steel- and
                wood-processing industry, rice de-husking
                rollers, sheets and screens for mining.


Rarely can an elastomer be found that can offer a similar balance of achievable properties as polyurethane rubber. However, due to its wide spectrum of chemical differences and properties, the right grade for the application in mind has to be chosen very carefully.

Lack of knowledge, poor technical advice, and consequently the wrong choice of grade or inadequate processing are the main causes for the comparatively low usage of polyurethane rubber in the worldwide rubber industry.

But in many extremely demanding applications, i.e., membranes for active suspension systems and load-leveling shock absorbers Shock absorbers

See: Circuit breakers
, polyurethane rubber has outperformed all others - even much more expensive synthetic rubber; and recently, new grades have been developed and been introduced into the rubber industry.


(1.) "Neue Entwicklungen auf dem Gebiet der Chemie und Technologie der walzbarenpolyurethane," published in Kautschuk und Gummi, Kunststoffe (1966); Dr. W. Kallert.

(2.) Polyurethane Handbook, Dr. Oertel.

(3.) "Urepan - a new range of polyurethane rubber, "published in Kautschuk Gummi Kunststoff (1/1995); A. Schroeter.

(4.) "Development of a new polyurethane rubber grade, suitable for extreme low temperature applications," Rubbercon '95, Gothenborg, Sweden 1995; A. Schroeter.

(5.) "Developing polyurethane rubbers for very high hardness roll coverings," published in Rubber Technology International (1997); A. Schroeter.

(6.) "Cyclohexyldimethanol/methylpropanediol based polyurethane rubber for improved low temperature properties and gas impermeability," published in Rubber Science and Technology (1997); A. Schroeter.

(7.) U.S. Patent 5,760,158 Polyurethane rubber vulcanizable by peroxides or sulfur with improved low temperature and gas impermeability properties (granted June 1998); A. Schroeter.

(8.) "PU-rubber outsoles for athletic footwear," published in Rubber World (12/1998); Jim Ahnemiller.

(9.) "Wear, tear resistant roll coverings, "published in Rubber World (4/1998); A. Schroeter.3
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Title Annotation:Company Business and Marketing
Comment:An introduction to the chemistry of polyurethane rubbers.(Company Business and Marketing)
Author:Ahnemiller, Jim
Publication:Rubber World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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