In product design, as in life, things are rarely just black and white. Color adds visual variety and helps to differentiate goods in the market.
Chemical firm BASF’s Infinergy® particle foam is getting the technicolor treatment as its applications grow. The material was originally available only in white, then black, but BASF is now working with brands to develop a wider range of hues. Infinergy® is the world’s first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU), which offers high elasticity and durability. The beads can be used in a number of technical applications, including treadmills, bicycle tires and saddles, tennis rackets, sports flooring and more.
Within fashion, Infinergy® is used in footwear to allow for improved performance and rebound. The particle foam first launched in shoes with Adidas’ Boost sneakers, but it has since expanded beyond the athletic category. For instance, Hotter Shoes added Infinergy® to casual and formal footwear to provide comfortable cushioning. While Adidas used Infinergy® within the midsole, Hotter’s Cushion + technology with Infinergy® is focused on the sole, with Infinergy® inserts for added comfort.
“Infinergy® is best used in sports and leisure applications, but since the material is innovative by nature, it also be used in many other applications beyond the sports and leisure industry,” said Dr. Jens Peter Dierssen, Director Global Business Management for Infinergy® at BASF.
Beyond footwear, Infinergy® can be used for flooring, such as in stadiums and in commercial spaces. The bouncy material can also be found under professional turf and in playgrounds, where its elastic properties protect children from injury.
When used in bicycle tires and saddles, Infinergy® allows for a smoother ride by absorbing the ground impact. For tires, the foam can replace air, creating puncture-proof wheels.
With the growing list of uses for Infinergy®, BASF first expanded its color options for the material with black foam. The black beads can help brands achieve classic, sleek design aesthetics, but they are also ideal for applications or surfaces that are susceptible to dirt.
To expand beyond black and white and into colors, pigments can either be incorporated during the production process, or a coating can be applied to the finished good. Colors are subject to availability, but some of the hues currently in development include orange, blue, red and pink. BASF is also creating multicolor options, such as a combination of blue and pink beads.
“We want to give our customers a variety of options which they can select from,” Dierssen said.
Softening Infinergy’s sustainability impact
As Infinergy® expands its color selection, BASF is also thinking green and leading the switch to more sustainable products by developing alternative raw materials. This is in line with market demands; when BASF asked customers about their sustainability priorities, bio-based content and recycling emerged as popular approaches.
BASF’s ChemCycling™ project chemically recycles used plastic into pyrolysis oil that can be used as inputs for new plastics, replacing a portion of fossil fuels in production. The resulting recycled plastics have the same properties as those made of virgin fossil fuels. Bio-based inputs can likewise be substituted for fossil fuel materials in production without changing the properties of the finished product. BASF is using mass balance to connect and allocate recycled or bio-based inputs to specific products at the consumer level.
Infinergy® can be recycled at both the post-industrial and post-consumer stages. Since it is a thermoplastic material, waste from Infinergy® production can always be used for new applications. This reuse prevents plastic from being landfilled or incinerated.
“The Infinergy® team has been constantly working on sustainability initiatives to ensure that the material maintains its high performance, yet is recyclable,” Dierssen said.
Click here to learn more about Infinergy®.