Developing a novel “Green” (with a smaller ecological footprint) sports mat for recreational purposes
Nowadays the market of polymer foams is growing globally. The total weight of polymer foam products manufactured in the USA exceeds three million tons, which are used by industries such as the packaging industry, the automotive industry, the construction industry and the sports industry. The most important characteristic of foamed polymer products is outstanding energy absorption. Sports mats are used in many sports either for safety or as a surface for sports activity. Energy absorption mats are used for example in indoor rock climbing gyms, for martial arts, gymnastics, pole vaulting, and also as protective mats for ski slopes. It is important to note that these foam products are mostly made from petroleum-based polymers ; these polymers and the manufacturing technologies have a considerable ecological footprint. The most commonly used materials are poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC), polyurethane (PUR), polyethylene (PE) and poly(vinyl chloride)-acrylonitrile butadiene rubber (PVC-NBR). Nowadays most manufacturers in the sport and leisure segment make PVC-based mats, mostly because of their low price and their high surface durability. PVC-NBR-based materials are a new family of materials which combine the advantageous properties of PVC with the flexibility of NBR and therefore comfortable products can be made from them. The use of PVC, however, requires extreme care due to the chlorine in its chemical structure and the plasticizer necessary during its processing. The plasticizer content of PVC can migrate to the surface of the PVC product in long-term use, and this causes a serious environmental and health risk issues due to the phthalates. Due to its chemical structure, much attention must be paid to the handling of PVC products at the end of their lifetime, as hydrochloric acid is produced when PVC is burnt. When it gets into contact with water, it produces an acidic mixture, which can cause acid rain. Nowadays PVC waste is usually used to produce energy, which technically means burning; this energy is a tiny fraction of the energy necessary to produce and process PVC; handling costs are high and the ecological footprint is large. The goal of our project is to develop flexible, elastomer-based foam structures for sports purposes with a small ecological footprint and with less or even no PVC. We also intend to develop the related manufacturing technology with special emphasis on mass-production. The product is likely to attract a great deal of attention and it is estimated that a considerable volume will be sold both on the domestic and the international market. In the fast-paced and stressful lifestyle of the 21st century, there is an increasing need for recreational and health-preserving activities. Numerous studies have proved that yoga and similar activities promote a happier and more balanced life. The development team includes several of BME’s researchers who have many years of related professional experience, and Polifoam Kft has 35 years of foam-making experience. This expertise and experience guarantee success and efficiency.