Assessment of the degradation of polyurethane foams after artificial and natural ageing by using pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and headspace-solid phase microextraction-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry

J Chromatogr A. 2011 Jul 15;1218(28):4498-508. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2011.05.013. Epub 2011 May 17.


Polyurethane foams are widely present in museum collections either as part of the artefacts, or as a material for their conservation. Unfortunately many of PU foam artefacts are in poor condition and often exhibit specific conservation issues. Their fast thermal and photochemical degradations have been the aim of previous researches. It is now accepted that hydrolysis predominates for polyester-based polyurethane PU(ES) whereas oxidation is the principal cause of degradation for polyether-based polyurethane PU(ET) variety. Only a few studies have been devoted to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by polyurethanes and, to our knowledge, none were performed on polyurethane foams by using headspace-solid phase microextraction (HS-SPME). The objective of the work described here is to assess the impact of some environmental factors (humidity, temperature and daylight) on the degradation of PU foams by evaluating their volatile fractions. We investigated morphological changes, polymerized fractions and volatile fractions of (i) one modern produced PU(ES) foam and one modern PU(ET) foam artificially aged in different conditions as well as (ii) four naturally aged foams collected from various daily life objects and selected for the representativeness of their analytical data. Characterization procedure used was based on attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR), pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) and non-invasive headspace solid-phase microextraction coupled with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (HS-SPME-GC/MS). In this paper, the formation of alcohol and acid raw products for PU(ES) and glycol derivatives for PU(ET) during natural and artificial ageing is confirmed. These main products can be considered as degradation markers for PU foams. Results show that artificial and natural ageing provide similar analytical results, and confirm that the dominant degradation paths for PU(ES) and for PU(ET) are hydrolysis and photo-oxidation, respectively. Lastly, we highlight that non-invasive HS-SPME-GC/MS analysis allows to distinguish between PU(ES) and PU(ET) at any point of their degradations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ethers
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Hydrolysis
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polyesters / chemistry
  • Polyurethanes / chemistry*
  • Solid Phase Microextraction / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • Volatile Organic Compounds


  • Ethers
  • Polyesters
  • Polyurethanes
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • polyurethane foam