Fluoropolymers: Their Applications and Related Concerns
As days go by, and new heights of technological advancements are scaled every day, subtle inventions that create the foundations for these technological advancements start getting unnoticed. They play such a crucial role in almost all industries that their presence becomes implicit. Fluoropolymers, in today’s world, are such materials which have created the foundations for many innovations. Fluoropolymers have countless applications, that too, spanning various industries and sectors.
Chemistry has eased our lives in ways we can’t even fathom. The domino effect of certain subtle discoveries and inventions made in the fields or organic and inorganic chemistry has been huge, to say the least. The fuel that powers ramjet engines, the pesticides that are sprayed on the crops or the polymers that help in manufacturing of tires, all are products of chemical engineering. The field of polymers, alone, is so vast and ever-expanding that this field is now considered as a separate field, different from chemistry. Scientists, conducting research in the field of polymer chemistry, spend their whole lives bettering the chemical and physical properties of the existing polymers while, at the same time, trying to find and invent better alternatives to the current ones. Polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, synthetic rubber, nylon, fluoropolymers, etc. are all results of the extensive research in the field of polymer chemistry. These materials are so commonly used in our lives that we tend to underplay their importance. Take fluoropolymers for example. The frying pan at your home, in which you fry your favorite foods, is coated with fluoropolymers to make them non-sticky. Fluoropolymers are so indispensable these days that the sheer range of their application makes us wonder what today’s world would look like without them.
Fluoropolymers are fluorocarbon-based polymers which are part of the family of plastic resins. In this type of polymers, single or multiple fluorine atoms replace the original hydrogen atoms to give out a high-performance plastic resin whose main features include resistance to strong acids, bases, etc.
What are the Applications of Fluoropolymers?
As stated earlier, fluoropolymers have numerous applications across different industries and sectors. Some of the applications are mentioned below:
- Aerospace Industry and Military Use: High temperature resistance and high electrical performance, makes fluoropolymers perfect materials for wire insulation and fuel hoses. They are also used in spacesuits of astronauts to enhance the protection.
- Automobile Industry: Fluorocarbon-based polymers are regularly used these days for manufacturing of automobiles to make them more light-weight, and at the same time, sturdier. Just like in military aircrafts, these fluorocarbon-based polymers are used for wire and cable insulation, fuel hoses, etc. They are also used for seat cushioning and bushing to increase passenger protection.
- Semiconductor Industry and Telecommunication Industry: The chemical and temperature resistance offered by fluoropolymers is unmatched. Hence, they are the first choice for semiconductor manufacturers. Similarly, telecommunication industry extensively uses these fluorocarbon-based polymers while manufacturing optical fibers and LAN cables. Once again, they act as perfect insulation materials for satellite wiring.
- Textile Industry: Textile industry is one of the latest sectors to use fluorocarbon-based polymers. Apparels made out of fluoropolymer fibers are proven to be more heat resistant and less susceptible to chemical weathering.
- Kitchenware and Other Appliances: Polytetrafluoroethylene, one of the most popular fluorocarbon-based polymers, is extensively used as a coating material for different kitchenware. Teflon, as polytetrafluoroethylene is popularly known, is extensively used to manufacture a range of products including seals, gaskets, lubricants, Teflon tapes, etc.
There are several other applications of fluoropolymers apart from these. Even the medical field uses these polymers in different ways; some types of dental floss are manufactured using these fluorocarbon-based polymers. The varied applications of such fluorocarbon-based polymers, in recent years, have provided a major boost to their demand worldwide. The global fluoropolymers market, as per the analysis done by Research Dive, is expected to grow at a healthy CAGR of 5.9% in the 2021-2028 timeframe.
Concerns Regarding Fluoropolymers and the Way Forward
The main concern with fluorocarbon-based polymers, as with more other polymers, is that they have a negative impact on the environmental sustainability. This is even more critical in today’s world wherein the whole world is grappled with the issue of climate change and global warming. The main problem with these fluorocarbon-based polymers is that they are non-biodegradable. Also, incineration of these polymers produces highly-corrosive and dangerous fumes which can pose serious health issues. This makes fluoropolymers virtually non-recyclable. The current research in the polymer chemistry field is hugely focused on making these fluorocarbon-based polymers recyclable and thus environmentally sustainable. Successful culmination of this research will go a long way in keeping this planet healthy, while at the same time, making the lives of its inhabitants even more easy.
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