Without plastics, we would not have what we simply consider as modern life—our credit cards and cashless economy, our appliances, our transportation, medical care, communications and computation. Yet merely a century ago, this life enabled through developments in chemically engineered plastic materials would have been completely beyond the imagination of even those in the scientific establishment.
What was the major moment in history that opened up this future for us? A clue may be found in the significant milestone the world’s leading chemical company BASF chose to celebrate in 2020: the 100th anniversary of polymer chemistry.
Advancing the possibilities of endeavor
In 1920, organic chemist Hermann Staudinger defined the kind of molecular structure (dubbed “macromolecular” or a long chain of polymer structure) of materials like rubber. He went on to show how this could be imitated to create synthetic materials tailored to have a range of chosen properties.
An early plastic known as Bakelite had already been invented and commercialized, but Staudinger’s study opened the way to create other plastics delivering desired performance characteristics such as being lightweight or elastic.
Staudinger’s work on polymers began with research he conducted for BASF in 1910, and it has laid the groundwork for the range of plastics we use today. Chemically engineered to suit our end-uses for them, polymer materials can be designed to be as supple or stiff, soft or hard, and as elastic, permeable and transparent as needed. These polymers are relatively inexpensive to produce and are 100 percent recyclable.
BASF continued to contribute to the field of polymer chemistry, following Staudinger’s breakthrough, commercializing new kinds of plastics over the years for use across all kinds of human endeavour.
A revolutionary material
In 2007, BASF invented a new kind of high-performance plastic: Infinergy®—the world’s first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (ETPU).
Infinergy® looks like hundreds or thousands of small grains, puffed up and molded together to provide a cushiony material—as elastic as rubber, but much lighter and more durable and shock-absorbent.
Infinergy® has been in commercial use since 2013, often in partnership with some of the biggest brands and innovators (including sports brands Dunlop, Adidas and Ergon).
What might surprise consumers is that this material may well be in the most comfortable shoes they own. It brings better comfort, safety and performance to all areas of movement, work and play, and is used in many of the latest treadmills, sports floorings, seating, pet chew toys, among other everyday things.
What can Infinergy® do?
Infinergy® has the dual ability to not only cushion impact, but to return that energy—like a boost—back to the user. This makes it kinder on human joints and other impact areas when incorporated in sports or safety gear. It also brings less fatigue to continuous tread, for instance in work boots or dress shoes, thereby empowering movement in all areas of activity.
Unlike previous kinds of plastics or natural materials, Infinergy® also has the ability to retain its high-performance characteristics even in extreme temperatures and environments. In terms of sustainability, it can be fully recycled and regenerated to its original level of high-performance quality.
The world’s leading high-performance responsive material
BASF’s Infinergy® has been a cornerstone of some of its customers’ leading product improvements, including innovations across the past decade in Dunlop tennis rackets, Adidas Boost sports shoes, and Ergon ergonomic bike saddles.
in 2013, Adidas revolutionized sports shoes when it launched its Boost series—a running shoe with unique spring and cushioning properties. Its midsole, the central element of every running shoe and comprised of the new particle foam Infinergy®, could absorb shock impact on the foot during jogging while simultaneously cushioning it. With the high rebound effect, runners found themselves empowered with an energy return never been offered by a running shoe.
Sports bicycle company Ergon launched a breakthrough in bicycle saddle technology in 2017, with a new product built around Infinergy®. The ST Core Ultra uses Infinergy® as a damper to absorb and isolate ground impact and body pressure through the saddle, optimizing comfort and back protection for cyclists, even on long rides in extreme heat or cold.
Dunlop has also leveraged the advantages of Infinergy®, incorporating it in the Sonic Core technology of its 2019 flagship CX tennis racket series. Aiming to help players generate more power and spin without injury, Dunlop noted a 46 percent increase in rebound height (compared with Dunlop’s original Sonic Core material), resulting in 2 percent faster ball speed off the racket. In addition to this superior rebound, Infinergy® also provides impressive damping properties and reduces vibrations up to 37 percent (compared with a standard carbon fiber racket).
Empowering the infrastructure of modern life
We take it for granted, but advancements in polymer chemistry continue to drive improvements in virtually every aspect of modern life, from the ergonomic design of audio earbuds to the hardware of the traffic lights to the safety and comfort of a child’s car seat.
Versatile polymers, such as Infinergy®, enable freedom of design by allowing simple molding or 3D printing technology to produce complex shapes, inviting innovators to try out new ideas and applications for the material. Opportunities to expand the scope of the invention are wide open.
Among recent innovations is the latest safety shoe series created by leading Argentine footwear brand Maincal. Engineered with Infinergy® compression technology, the Voran Sportsafe Energy industrial workshoes offer greater stability while reducing fatigue for workers in automotive, food, logistics and other challenging work areas that require safety and comfort over long periods of time.
For more information on how Infinergy® can empower workers to move like athletes and open up new possibilities for your brand, click here.