Posted: January 8, 2011 in Raw materials, Spray Foam

Polyurethane catalysts can be classified into two broad categories, amine compounds and organometallic  complexes. They can be further classified as to their specificity, balance, and relative power or efficiency. Traditional amine catalysts have been tertiary amines such as triethylenediamine (TEDA, also known as 1,4-diazabicyclo[2.2.2]octane or DABCO, an Air Products’s trade mark), dimethylcyclohexylamine (DMCHA), and dimethylethanolamine  (DMEA). Tertiary amine catalysts are selected based on whether they drive the urethane (polyol+isocyanate, or gel) reaction, the urea (water+isocyanate, or blow) reaction, or the isocyanate trimerization reaction. Since most tertiary amine catalysts will drive all three reactions to some extent, they are also selected based on how much they favor one reaction over another. For example, tetramethylbutanediamine (TMBDA) preferentially drives the gel reaction over the blow reaction. On the other hand, both pentamethyldipropylenetriamine and N-(3-dimethylaminopropyl)-N,N-diisopropanolamine balance the blow and gel reactions, although the former is more potent than the later on a weight basis. 1,3,5-(tris(3-dimethylamino)propyl)-hexahydro-s-triazine  is a trimerization catalyst that also strongly drives the blow reaction. Molecular structure gives some clue to the strength and selectivity of the catalyst. Blow catalysts generally have an ether linkage two carbons away from a tertiary nitrogen. Examples include bis-(2-dimethylaminoethyl)ether (also known as A-99, formerly a Union Carbide product), and N-ethylmorpholine. Strong gel catalysts contain alkyl-substituted nitrogens, such as triethylamine (TEA), 1,8-diazabicyclo[5.4.0]undecene-7 (DBU), and pentamethyldiethylenetriamine (PMDETA). Weaker gel catalysts contain ring-substituted nitrogens, such as benzyldimethylamine (BDMA). Trimerization catalysts contain the triazine structure, or are quaternary ammonium salts. Two trends have emerged since the late 1980s. The requirement to fill large, complex tooling with increasing production rates has led to the use of blocked catalysts to delay front end reactivity while maintaining back end cure. In the United States, acid- and quaternary ammonium salt-blocked TEDA and bis-(2-dimethylaminoethyl)ether are common blocked catalysts used in molded flexible foam and microcellular integral skin foam applications. Increasing aesthetic and environmental awareness has led to the use of non-fugitive catalysts for vehicle interior and furnishing applications in order to reduce odor, fogging, and the staining of vinyl coverings. Catalysts that contain a hydroxyl group or an active amino hydrogen, such as N,N,N’-trimethyl-N’-hydroxyethyl-bis(aminoethyl)ether and N’-(3-(dimethylamino)propyl)-N,N-dimethyl-1,3-propanediamine that react into the polymer matrix can replace traditional catalysts in these applications.

Organometallic compounds based on mercury, lead, tin (dibutyltin dilaurate), bismuth (bismuth octanoate), and zinc are used as polyurethane catalysts. Mercury carboxylates, such as phenylmercuric neodeconate, are particularly effective catalysts for polyurethane elastomer, coating and sealant applications, since they are very highly selective towards the polyol+isocyanate reaction. Mercury catalysts can be used at low levels to give systems a long pot life while still giving excellent back-end cure. Lead catalysts are used in highly reactive rigid spray foam insulation applications, since they maintain their potency in low-temperature and high-humidity conditions. Due to their toxicity and the necessity to dispose of mercury and lead catalysts and catalyzed material as hazardous waste in the United States, formulators have been searching for suitable replacements. Since the 1990s, bismuth and zinc carboxylates have been used as alternatives but have short comings of their own. In elastomer applications, long pot life systems do not build green strength as fast as mercury catalyzed systems. In spray foam applications, bismuth and zinc do not drive the front end fast enough in cold weather conditions and must be otherwise augmented to replace lead. Alkyl tin carboxylates, oxides and mercaptides oxides are used in all types of polyurethane applications. For example, dibutyltin dilaurate is a standard catalyst for polyurethane adhesives and sealants, dioctyltin mercaptide is used in microcellular elastomer applications, and dibutyltin oxide is used in polyurethane paint and coating applications. Tin mercaptides are used in formulations that contain water, as tin carboxylates are susceptible to degradation from hydrolysis.


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