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Challenges for SMEs with Flammable Foam-Blowing Agents

Large sophisticated companies can use a wide range of highly flammable foam-blowing agents, but the costs of appropriate safety measures are too much for SMEs.

Methyl Methanoate Foam: A Safer Alternative

Methyl methanoate foam is an ozone-safe, negligible-GWP alternative to HCFCs in a wide range of foam applications. As a pure chemical, methyl methanoate is highly flammable, but it can be used safely in a pre-blended form with other foam ingredients. UNDP recommends that foam system houses qualified for the safe use of flammable ingredients produce the pre-blended foam mix that can then be safely used by SMEs and other downstream users (UNDP 2010).1

UNDP’s Demonstration Project on Methyl-Formate Systems

At its 56th meeting, the Executive Committee of the MLF approved a demonstration project that gave UNDP the mandate to 1) assess the application of methyl-formate (MF) based systems (Ecomate™) in the manufacture of polyurethane foam, 2) compare the technical performance of the new systems with HCFC-141b-based systems, and 3) establish the feasibility of using methyl-formate-based systems in MLF projects.

Pilot Projects in Brazil and Mexico

A pilot project has been designed around Purcom Quimica, the largest independent foam technology system house in Brazil, which specializes in tailor-made polyurethane (PU) systems covering most PU applications. The project assessed 15 applications in moulded flexible slabstock, elastomers, integral skin and rigid foam sub-sectors. The application of PU foam in shoe-soles was assessed through a pilot project executed by Quimiuretanos Zadro, a system house in Mexico that specializes in PU soles used in the manufacture of shoes (UNDP 2012).2

Rapid Market Penetration and Success Stories

The successful projects in Mexico and Brazil were the prelude to rapid market penetration of the technology in twelve A5 Parties funded by the MLF. According to the MLF secretariat, implementation involved more than fifteen local foam system houses and hundreds of downstream users, with a total of 5,000 metric tonnes of HCFC-141b phased out.3

Global Adoption of Methyl Methanoate Foam

Methyl Methanoate Foam is not only the technology selected for a large number of applications in Latin American countries, but also has had penetration in countries in other regions. Currently, methyl methanoate foam systems are being commercialized in Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, China, former Soviet countries, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Phillipines, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, the US, and Vietnam.4

Applications in Housing and Disaster Relief

In Brazil, methyl methanoate foam also is used in the manufacturing of houses for low-income families.5 Houses have been built using this technology in Africa and South America (Angola, Mozambique, Paraguay and Uruguay). The technology also can be used to provide low-cost construction in countries where people have been displaced after natural disasters. The market penetration of methyl methanoate technology and the technical assistance that system houses such as Purcom have provided to A5 Parties are positive examples of South-South cooperation to protect the ozone layer and mitigate climate change.

1 UNDP (2010) Methyl Methanoate Foam as Blowing Agent in the Manufacture of Polyurethane Foam Systems An Assessment for the Application in MLF Projects.
2 UNDP (2012) Methyl Methanoate Foam as Blowing Agent in the Manufacture of Polyurethane Foam Systems An Assessment for the Application in MLF Projects.
3 UNEP (2014) Overview of Approved HCFC Demonstration Projects and Options for Additional Projects to Demonstrate Climate-Friendly and Energy-Efficient Alternative Technologies to HCFCs (Decision 71/51 (a)), UNEP/OzL.Pro/ExCom/72/40.
4 Personal communication with FSI, September 2014

This case study is an excerpt from the paper ‘Alternatives to High-GWP Hydrofluorocarbon’ Published by the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. You can view the entire paper here: