Insulation is becoming increasingly important in our drive for greater efficiency and sustainability. Appliances with higher energy efficiencies are preferred among consumers, and better building insulation helps conserve thermal energy. Pentanes are widely used as blowing agents to produce durable, sustainable, and higher performance insulating foam.
What is Insulation Foam Made From?
Polyurethane (PU) and Polystyrene (PS) are the two main types of foam polymers, and both must be foamed to have any insulating effect. While polyurethane foam is more expensive than polystyrene foam, polyurethane foam has better insulating properties. For this reason, polyurethane foam can be made thinner than polystyrene and still achieve the same performance properties. The optimum insulating performance of polyurethane foam makes it an ideal choice for space-saving and energy-efficient applications.
How is Polyurethane Foam Made?
A simplified process for manufacturing polyurethane (PU) foam involves combining a diisocyanate and a diol with fire retardants and chemical additives. These components are then reacted in a small amount of water. The monomers cross-link to form a polymer, and as more water is added the diisocyanate decomposes and carbon dioxide is made. The carbon dioxide gas inflates the polymer, making polyurethane foam. The more diisocyanate used, the more rigid the foam becomes.
However, polyurethane foamed with carbon dioxide has uneven pores and is susceptible to tearing. For this reason, blowing agents are used to control pore size and distribution, and provide better insulating properties.
Why are Pentanes the Best Blowing Agents?
Blowing agents, also called foaming agents, are substances that facilitate foam formation. Historically, halogenated hydrocarbons were widely used as blowing agents. However, partially halogenated hydrocarbons like HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon) and CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) are harmful to the environment and banned by many regulatory bodies. Pentanes and fluorinated olefins (HFOs) are the predominant blowing agents today. While HFOs are also high performing blowing agents, they are much more expensive and difficult to manufacture.
Pentanes and pentane blends have a long track record of performance in polyurethane foaming, providing a more even distribution of pores and more durable foam. Pentanes also have low impact on global warming and do not deplete the ozone layer, making them an environmentally sustainable solution. Cyclopentane especially improves the insulating properties of foam. Cyclopentane has a higher boiling point than other pentanes, and some cyclopentane is left behind during polyurethane foaming. Because cyclopentane gas is a poor heat conductor, the leftover cyclopentane provides additional insulation to the foam.
Pentane and pentane blends ensure uniform distribution of pores, and positively contribute to the insulation properties.
Pentanes have low Global Warming Potential (GWP) and have no Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP).
What are Common Applications for Polyurethane Foam?
Polyurethane foam is particularly well suited for applications that require high performing insulation materials with low insulation thickness. The refrigeration and construction industries find many uses for polyurethane insulating foam.
Building and Construction
Refrigerators and Freezers
Refrigerated Trucks and Cold Storage
We offer high-purity, high-quality pentanes from Chevron Phillips Chemical and Haltermann Carless. Many types of pentanes are used as blowing agents, including n-pentane, iso-pentane, and cyclopentane, or often a mix of isomers. We have highlighted our core portfolio below. Contact us today to speak with a technical representative about a product recommendation, or if you have questions about a custom blend.