The polyurethane foam in district heating pre-insulated pipes has a critical role to play both as thermal insulation and as load bearing element, as it serves as bond between the medium pipe and the casing. Hence, knowledge on how the foam behaves under multiaxial stresses is of great importance for the design as well as for aging predictions of the network. It is known that cell shape anisotropy in polymeric foams leads to anisotropy in its mechanical properties. In this study, we evaluate and quantify the microstructural anisotropy of PU foam from pre-insulated pipes as well as its mechanical behaviour under compression in the three orthogonal directions. We cover rigid and flexible PU foam, batch and continuous manufacturing, and different pipe diameters. The results were compared with those predicted by available rectangular and Kelvin cell shape models. We have found that PU from pre-insulated pipes is orthotropic and present stronger anisotropy than that typically found in PU slabs. The traditional bonded pipes under consideration behaved in a similar way. However, when comparing the two flexible pipes in this study, despite no significant differences in cell shape anisotropy were found, a significantly different behaviour for the E modulus ratio was observed. This shows that while the manufacturing process exerts the main influence on cell shape anisotropy, to explain the difference in stiffness behaviour other factors need to be taken into consideration, such as cell size and cell size variability.
Keywords: cell anisotropy; district heating; multiaxial loading; polyurethane foam; sandwich structure.