PFAS restrictions in US states threaten HFO use in polyurethanes

Al Greenwood


SAN ANTONIO (ICIS)–Some individual US states are considering restrictions on fluorinated materials that are so broad, they could threaten the use of the latest generation of refrigerants and blowing agents that are used by the polyurethanes industry.

The restrictions are part of a longstanding trend of individual states adopting different regulations. The result creates a patchwork of regulations throughout the US that chemical companies have to navigate on a case-by-case basis.

The Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI) noted that some states are considering broad definitions of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) that go beyond the ones adopted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The problem with these broad definitions is that they can include hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), a family of chemicals used as refrigerants and as blowing agents in polyurethane foams.

HFOs are replacing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are exceptionally powerful greenhouse gases.

If individual states adopt their own PFAS regulations that restrict the usage of HFOs, then polyurethane companies could face a variety of regulations that would require different polyurethane formulations for different states.

The state bans point to another challenge. They imply that the polyurethanes industry would have to develop other blowing agents to replace HFOs. These replacement would need to be benign greenhouse gases that do not fall under the broad definition of a PFAS.

For the polyurethane industry, developing another replacement is problematic because they already have gone through the complicated process of reformulating their products to make them compatible with HFOs.

Polyurethanes are complicated systems made up of isocyanates, polyols, additives, catalysts and blowing agents. A change in one component could require changes in the others.

States could carve out exceptions for hard-to-replace materials such as HFOs, said Ian Choiniere, director, product advocacy for the CPI. He made his comments on the sidelines of the Polyurethanes Technical Conference.

They could also delay the restrictions so they could study how they could sabotage other environmental goals. The danger of continued use of powerful greenhouse gases as refrigerants could be worse than replacing them with HFOs.

State policy could slow down adoption of polyurethane spray foams, which function both as powerful insulators and as building envelopes that prevent air leakage.

This threat to spray-foam adoption could occur because states can choose how they adopt the latest updates of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) from the International Code Council (ICC).

The code sets standards for air leakage, windows and other energy conservation measures for construction.

These kinds of codes can affect demand for polyurethane spray foam insulation and other building chemicals.

If states pick looser standards, that could allow builders to use materials other than polyurethane spray foam as insulation.

To encourage the adoption of the latest codes, the administration of US President Joe Biden is offering grants totalling $400m.

The Polyurethanes Technical Conference continues on Tuesday and runs through Wednesday.


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