MTA-BME Research Group

Developing a novel “Green” (with a smaller ecological footprint) sports mat for recreational purposes

Project ID:
Supported by:
Nemzeti Kutatási, Fejlesztési és Innovációs Hivatal (NKFIH)
1 Marc 2020 - 29 February 2024
Supervisor (BME):
Dr. Ákos Kmetty
Participant researchers (BME):
Dr. Kmetty Ákos
Dr. Bárány Tamás
Tomin Márton
Dr. Romhány Gábor
Kohári Andrea
Dr. Tamás-Bényei Péter
Dr. Litauszki Katalin
Consortium partners (BME):
Polifoam Kft. (konzorciumvezető)

Project summary

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.

Project results

Section 1
1 Marc 2020 - 28 February 2021
Competitive product analysis was carried out during the first section of the project. The approximate composition of the products was determined with analytical tests. Based on mechanical tests, we determined the requirements for the product to be developed. We determined the requirements for quality and comfort and the properties of the reference samples. In addition, we did an extensive literature search. In the literature search, the range of the most common polymer-rubber raw materials, their properties, and the available formulations was also explored. Market research was also carried out, during which we purchased the competing products, examined them and graded them based on the criteria we developed. During this section, we also set the main research directions by collecting materials and their combinations available to develop a PVC-free product. We performed extensive laboratory tests and developed experimental designs. We started the development of PVC-free foam materials according to the experimental design. The impact assessment of the components used in the recipes, and the vulcanization and foamability experiments of the mixtures were performed according to the project schedule. The documentation generated during this work section includes the results for the competing products; an in-depth and detailed characterization of the reference material, the properties to be achieved and their target values. Therefore, we produced a profile of properties characteristic of high-quality sports mattresses and the production technology parameters required for the production of NBR-PVC based foams used as a reference in later foam development. The production technology parameters have been determined at laboratory scale and semi-industrial scale.
Vulcanization curve of sample A01

Section 2
1 Marc 2021 - 28 February 2022

Section 3
1 Marc 2022 - 28 February 2023

Section 4
1 Marc 2023 - 29 February 2024

Project-related publications

  1. Béky Cs., Tomin M., Kmetty Á.: Termoplasztikus elasztomerek és habosításuk- áttekintés. Polimerek, 7, 27-32 (2021)

© 2014 BME Department of Polymer Engineering - Created by: Dr. Romhány Gábor