Krakow, Poland – High isocyanate prices forced European flexible PU foamers to change formulations to retain market share in 2017.
That was a key message in a paper presented by Angela Austin of Labyrinth Research at the EuroPUR meeting on 12-13 April 2018.
Despite these efforts, Austin told delegates that high materials prices had led to a 20% increase in turnover in the sector in 2017.
The high prices are leading to changes at customers. For example, German sales of foam mattresses in 2017 could be down from its average level of around 80% ‘to 70 % or as low as 50%, with box-spring mattresses taking a larger share of the market than usual.’ She added that Italian foamers were reporting pressure from furniture makers for lower density foam.
In total, 1.374 m tonne slabstock was produced in the EU 28 plus, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the Balkans in 2017.
‘Of this around 1.3 million tonne was polyether slabstock. Around 82,000 tonnes was polyester last year. This is a surprisingly large amount,’ Austin said.
Foamers moving to TDI/MDI blends drove the rise in polyester polyol usage, she said . There was also a growth in MDI-polyester polyol formulations.
As demand for MDI grew at foamers, there was ‘an increase in speciality polyols, polyols that offer greater hardness or performance characteristics that you might expect from the isocyanate part of the foam. Foamers have been using polyols with different OH numbers so that they can use less TDI,’ Austin added.
‘People have been trying to use less TDI because of price. MDI use has increased by between 4-5% partly because of a growth in MDI-polyester polyol foam production. TDI polyester foam uses less TDI, [than conventional polyether formulations] but if you use MDI-polyester systems, then you don’t use TDI at all.’