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Although applications for flexible polyurethane foams are well enumerated, the relative volumes broken down by geography and foam characteristics are difficult to obtain with accuracy. Problems in developing a coherent picture are in part a reflection of the shifting use of descriptors and their uses. For instance, it is conventional wisdom that foam producers are under pressure to provide consumers with the so-called "green" options for purchase. This is commonly understood to mean that the foam is based on feedstocks from agricultural rather than petrochemical feedstocks. While several agriculturally based polyurethane feedstocks have come on the market, it is doubtful that the consumer is yet driving buying decisions based on feedstock origins. Rather, the "green" technology market thrusts are largely based on governmental mandates surrounding air quality associated with volatile organic emanations from formed foam, the use of heavy metal catalysts, and supplementary blowing agents that may be employed to promote foam rise [5]. Additionally, and specific to flexible polyurethane foams, there is a technology drive to implement flame retardant solutions that do not involve the use of halogens [6]. Recently, the use of phosphorus-containing flame retardants has also come under scrutiny [7]. In 2011, there was also action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explore restrictions of isocyanates in some applications [8]. European regulators have developed regulations that make automotive manufacturers liable for disposal of scrapped vehicles [9]. This burden has instigated activity for recovery and recycle of automotive polyurethane components. From the manufacturer's perspective, the drive is to provide equivalent cushioning and durability at lower densities translating to lower costs.

The breakdown of volumes applied to the various applications is also difficult to obtain, presumably because of poor tracking and a lack of motivation for data collation. A survey of data available for the United States is provided in Figure 7.2. Due to macroeconomic factors, as more chemical and end-use manufacturing is shifted to low-cost environments, the overall numbers can be expected to be volatile. While manufacturing may be shifted, it is likely that the snapshot provided in Figure 7.2 represents an equilibrium comparison between relative volumes required by mature economies for the various segments. A survey of similar data for 2005 [10] provided different absolute values but substantially similar relative numbers.

Approximate breakdown for the volume usage of flexible polyurethane foams in the United States for the year 2010.

FIGURE 7.2 Approximate breakdown for the volume usage of flexible polyurethane foams in the United States for the year 2010.

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