Chemistry of comfort

When Otto Bayer synthesised Polyurethane in 1937, he was far from imagining the potential of his discovery: a versatile material capable of being used both in the construction industry, as well as in the automotive or footwear industry, contributing to our quality of life.


A discovery with potential

The discovery was accidental. Before the start of World War II, when faced with the huge shortage of rubber materials that was felt in Europe, the German chemist Otto Bayer, at only 35 years of age, was looking for a more efficient method for the production of rubber - using fewer by-products -, but instead ended up discovering something bigger: polyurethane.

Polyurethane is an organic polymer with a texture very similar to a sponge or foam. Given its versatility - hard or flexible - and thanks to its thermal and acoustic properties, it is now universally used in construction and in the automotive and footwear industries.

It should be noted that Otto Bayer's early experiments in this area did not impress his supervisors at the then IG Farben laboratory in Leverkusen, Germany. The basic idea of mixing small volumes of chemicals to obtain dry foam materials was seen as unrealistic. But, persistent in his research, the scientist insisted on the strategy of synthesis from two chemical substances, an isocyanate – a type of organic compound – and a polyol – a type of alcohol.

After several failed attempts, the scientist finally managed to develop the famous polyurethane and radically changed the landscape of the chemical industry. The first applications of this product were in the coatings of World War II aircraft.

Invisible and versatile

Although practically invisible to the eye, this chemical compound is present in our daily lives and is responsible for much of our comfort. At home, for example, temperature regulation is achieved through the hard polyurethane foam that is inside the masonry walls. Flexible foam, on the inside of domestic upholstery, is present in sofas, armchairs, cushions, pillows and mattresses.

In the automotive industry, we find it in the steering wheel of our cars, in the roof lining, seats, panels and headrest. Polyurethane also has many applications in the footwear industry, providing flexibility for comfortable walking.

Given its acoustic and thermal properties, the use of polyurethane foam has a sustainable energy matrix, since by promoting energy efficiency and thermal comfort, CO2 emissions are also reduced.


Aniline is a fundamental raw material in the chemical industry. It is used in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals, such as herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, but also synthetic paints, explosives and the famous Methylene Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI).

MDI is the base that supports the production of hard polyurethane foam, which is used mainly in the insulation of buildings and refrigeration systems and is responsible for the comfort of our homes. Since the 1980s, MDI has been the driving force behind the growth in aniline production.

Aniline, also known as aminobenzene or phenylamine, is a substance in the family of amines - compounds important for the manufacture of dyes. Having the molecular formula C6H5NH2, it was obtained for the first time, in 1826, from the dry distillation of indigo vegetable dye, at the hands of the German chemist Otto Unverdorben.

Under normal conditions regarding temperature and pressure, it is a colourless, oily liquid with a pleasant smell. It is used less as a raw material for the production of dyes, and is widely used in the production of rubbers and insecticides. At Bondalti, aniline - obtained by hydrogenation of nitrobenzene and in the presence of a catalyst - is supplied in bulk or packaged in canisters.

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