Technology developed in Arkema laboratories and now being launched by the company's fluorochemicals business could serve as an example of the kind of improvement in R&D productivity that Thierry Le Hénaff, Arkema's new chief executive officer, is seeking.
Arkema debuted the technology, trade-named Transcend, at a polyurethane industry conference in Las Vegas last month. Kirsten Makel, the firm's North American business manager for foams, solvents, and aerosols, says it's the product of several years of research by scientists in King of Prussia, Pa., and Pierre-Benite, France, who are dedicated to the field of polyurethane foams.
According to Makel, the Transcend R&D program arose out of the need for alternatives to the polyurethane blowing agent hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)-141b, which was phased out in the U.S. at the beginning of 2003. Some HCFC-141b users found ready alternatives: Rigid foam board makers, for example, switched to pentane, and refrigerator makers switched to hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-245fa. However, other segments, such as the spray-on foam business, are still casting about for an adequate replacement. "They are trying anything and everything," Makel says.
Transcend technology is based on trans-1,2-dichloroethylene, which the Arkema researchers hit upon on after observing that certain chlorinated additives improve blowing-agent performance.
Arkema is betting that Transcend technology will enhance several of the blowing agents now used to apply spray foam. For companies using hydrocarbons like pentane, Makel says, trans-1,2-DCE improves fire retardancy and can help earn a coveted Class 1 fire rating. For companies that rely on HFC-134a, trans-1,2-DCE improves cost-effectiveness by increasing blowing-agent solubility. "It has become truly a multifunctional additive technology," she says.
About eight staffers are dedicated to foam research in King of Prussia, Makel says, and another four in Pierre-Benite. HCFCs like 142b and 22 will be phased out by the end of the decade, and the Arkema researchers are beginning to eye enhancement of their replacements as well. "We have a tremendous R&D team, and they are trying to put Transcend into everything," she says.