In a pair of 18-month studies at UCLA, researchers found that chemically recycled polyurethane mattress foam can be used to make concrete with less energy consumption than traditional concrete production methods and that used mattress foam can be used to make new foam products.
The results of these MRC-funded studies were released in December 2021.
In the first study, researchers determined the upcycled polyurethane foam can be combined with naturally occurring zeolite minerals to produce high strength composites with properties comparable to ordinary Portland cement. The composites have better flexural strength and crack resistance and may be suitable for use in cast concrete and other products such as concrete sound barriers, benches, etc. The research also showed that the recycled foam actually outperformed virgin polyurethane materials.
The technology has the potential of using thousands of tons of mattress foam per year. For example, one mile of a concrete highway sound barrier would use 600,000 pounds of recycled foam. Since the composites use recycled and naturally occurring materials, they are expected to be far less energy intensive than ordinary cements. A life cycle analysis is underway to estimate the total potential environmental impact reduction.
In the second study, UCLA researchers demonstrated the viability of upcycled polyurethane products, obtained from mattress foam, as a partial replacement for virgin polyol chemicals in the production of new foam products.
Dr. Samanvaya Srivastava, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, led both UCLA research efforts. A paper was presented on Oct. 6 at the Polyurethane Technical Conference in Denver. A patent application was also filed in October for the process to add upcycled polyurethane foam to concrete.