With the excesses of Christmas and New Year celebrations gradually becoming a distant memory, the mince pies and chocolates from the cupboards all too suddenly replaced by nuts and dried fruit as the best intentions of new year’s resolutions are realised, it seems appropriate for us to take a look, for our first Material Monday post of 2016, at a product which has, over the past two-and-a-half years, proved influential in reshaping the fitness and leisure industry.
The discovery of Infinergy, a now-trademarked creation from BASF, the German multi-national chemical manufacturers, is largely credited to the work of Frank Prissok, a chemist and research scientist who famously presented the fruits of his labour to colleagues during a coffee break in 2009. In a significant breakthrough, the potential implications of which were immediately recognised by the fellow members of his BASF team, Prissok revealed that he had succeeded in foaming thermoplastic urethane (TPU), a polyurethane plastic found in a host of everyday items, from power tools to mobile phone cases.
Prissok had discovered that TPU, which traditionally comes in granular form, undergoes dramatic expansion when exposed to the right combination of pressure and heat. As Martin Vallo, a colleague of Prissok, explained in 2013:
“It increases the volume tenfold and you get oval-shaped foam balls with tiny bubbles of gas trapped inside. It’s a bit like popping corn in the microwave. The air compartments make the material extremely elastic. Nobody had ever managed to foam TPU that way before.”
The unique properties of the expanded TPU piqued the interest of BASF’s long-time partner and fellow German multi-national, adidas, who were understandably keen to understand both the scalability of the processes required to create Infinergy, as well, of course, as its effectiveness in an athletic context. In principle, it ticked all the boxes: a lightweight, elastic, highly durable material with good resistance to temperatures both high and low. These tiny beads, just five to ten millimetres across, had the potential to revolutionise the way we run.
Finally, after three years of research, testing and fine-tuning, adidas unveiled the Energy Boost sole as part of its new collection of running trainers, winning over both amateur and professional athletes in the process. Around 2,500 beads had been brought together and subjected to a steam-moulding process that melted the bead’s top layer without damaging its internal structure, to give a sole that, according to adidas’ PR department, at least, provided ‘endless energy’.
For now, Infinergy remains a staple of the Boost range, which continues to grow and has become extremely desirable in the worlds of both sport and fashion. Its potential in other areas remains to be seen, but you wouldn’t bet against two of Germany’s most established companies producing something special.
The adidas UltraBoost, released in early 2015 (Image: sneakernews.com)