Thursday 31 October 2019

Fluoropolymers As Enabler For Megatrends: From Resource Efficiency To Digitalization

The world of fluoropolymers is versatile and fluoropolymers can be seen as an enabler to support the realization of the so-called megatrends. This is the main topic of this blog post.

The base of fluoropolymers are monomers such as tetrafluoroethylene (TFE), hexafluoropropylene (HFP), and vinylidene fluoride (VDF) which can be synthesized from the raw material fluorspar. Using the monomers, polymerization to polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE), polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), and fluorinated ethylene-propylene (FEP) can be done.

In 2015, 270,000 metric tons of fluoropolymers were consumed worldwide. Altogether, the world of fluoropolymers can be divided into three major pillars: PTFE, fluorothermoplastics, and fluoroelastomers. PTFE represents with 140,000 metric tons the largest part (52%), followed by PVDF with 41,000 metric tons (15%) and on third place is FEP with 22,500 metric tons (8%). Smaller positions are occupied by ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer (ETFE), 8,400 metric tons (3%), and fluoroelastomers (FKM), which account for 31,000 metric tons (12%).

There are several megatrends which result in economic, social, and environmental shifts. Understanding megatrends and how to incorporate fluoropolymers as a material enabler will result in better allover results in the long run. Following, are some examples on how fluoropolymers can support to solve challenges ahead of us.

Resource limitation: a major topic in chemical industry is the extension of a plant’s lifetime. Using fluoropolymers for corrosion protection, especially in reactor-, mounting-, and pipelining can be seen as positive step to battle this challenge. Going further, you can design even an all-fluoropolymer reactor to increase the productivity of your reaction. Plastics industry is also investigating ways of up-cycling end-of-life products, including but not limited to fluoropolymers.

Digitalization: data transfer and data storage are major topics in the internet of things (IoT). We want to have smaller overall designs and improved performance of high frequency components. Using fully fluorinated polymers, better insulation with thinner insulation layers at higher frequencies is possible. Furthermore, non-flammable indoor high frequency (LAN) cables are needed and those cables take advantage of the flame retardant property of fluorine chemistry.

Transport changes: in automotive, we have more stringent CO2 reduction needs (Euro Six Norm) combined with reduced consumption of gasoline. Therefore, more sensors are placed on several positions in the exhaust gas flow. Using fluoroelastomers as sealing materials allows us to have a compression set at temperatures up to 280°C, which guarantees proper sealing of the sensor housings. In the field of car electrification, PVDF is a key enabler in battery technology. PVDF is used as cathode binder, separator coating, and anode binder. PFA and FKM can be used as cell gasket sealing materials as well.

Aging population: there will be increasing demand for medical devices and fluoropolymers can provide chemical stable components for dialysis devices. Also, endoscopic surgery equipment is made from fluoropolymers. This ensures proper resistance to the sterilization process. Furthermore, in emerging regions such as BRIC states, cooking devices such as rice cookers, frying pans and bakeware use non-stick coatings, driving demand for fluoropolymers in this area too.

In conclusion, fluoropolymers have established themselves in many applications and will be a major material enabler for the megatrend challenges ahead of us.

I published also are more general fluoropolymer post which you can check out here.

Thanks for reading & till next time!

Herwig Juster

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[1] Kunststoffe International 10/2016

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