About the fluoropolymers product group
What is the Fluoropolymer Product Group?
The Fluoropolymers Product Group (FPG) represents Europe’s leading fluoropolymer producers and experts. With a unique set of properties unobtainable by other polymers, fluoropolymers are non-replaceable across many applications and sectors. Fluoropolymers ensure safety, reliability, durability and performance in numerous technologies, industrial processes, and everyday products critical for human safety and health.
What is their mission?
Our members are committed to promoting innovation, safe use of their products, sustainable manufacturing, and stewardship across the industry.
As the voice of the industry across Europe, the Fluoropolymers Product Group advocates for a balanced regulatory environment based on risks and on scientific facts, ensuring European industries remain competitive and sustainable.
Who are the members of the Fluoropolymers Product Group?
The Fluoropolymers Product Group is part of PlasticsEurope, the professional body representing European polymer producers. It operates in accordance with the PlasticsEurope governance, including Competition Compliance Rules.
Its members include:
- AGC Chemicals
- Daikin Chemicals
- W. L. Gore & Associates
- Gujarat Fluorochemicals
What are fluoropolymers?
Fluoropolymers are a distinct subset of PFAS. They are polymers with fluorine atoms directly attached to their carbon-only backbone.
With their unique physicochemical properties, these specialty plastics and elastomers are virtually chemically inert, non-wetting, non-stick, and highly resistant to temperature, fire and weather. Non-replaceable in many applications, their unique properties cannot be guaranteed by other polymers.
What are the properties of fluoropolymers?
Fluoropolymers have a unique set of properties and are:
- durable, stable and mechanically strong in harsh conditions in a variety of sectors including but not limited to automotive, aerospace, environmental controls, energy production and storage, and electronics, as well as in technical apparel;
- stable in air, water, sunlight, chemicals and microbes;
- chemically inert meeting the requirements for low levels of contaminants and particulates in manufacturing environments critical for the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, medical, and semiconductor industries;
- biocompatible; non-wetting, non-stick, and highly resistant to temperature, fire and weather.
Applications: where, how and why are fluoropolymers used?
Today, fluoropolymers are used in numerous technologies, industrial processes and everyday applications from the aviation industry, to transportation, including electric vehicles, medical devices and energy production to technical apparel, to name just a few.
They are durable, chemically inert and mechanically strong in harsh conditions, making them a critical material in many sectors with few, if any, viable alternatives.
What types of fluoropolymers are there?
There are fluoroplastics and fluoroelastomers. Both subsets are based on the same monomers and are structurally similar. Their main difference is the higher elasticity of fluoroelastomers, achieved through chemical cross-linking.
Fluoropolymers may be fully or partially fluorinated, linear or branched. All fluoropolymers are high molecular weight polymers with unique physicochemical properties that are distinctly different when compared to other PFAS substances.
Fluoropolymers and PFAS
Are fluoropolymers PFAS? Why does this distinction matter?
Yes, fluoropolymers can be defined as a type of PFAS according to OECD1.
However, terms such as ‘PFAS’ or ‘fluorinated substances’ are very broad terms to group a family of over 4,700 chemicals2, a definition based on their chemical structure and not their properties. Within such a large group, the chemicals have significantly varying properties and hazard profiles. As such, certain PFAS of concern such as PFOA and PFOS have been identified as a source of toxicological or environmental concern.
Although they can be defined as PFAS, fluoropolymers display different toxicological properties than certain other fluorochemicals in the PFAS family.
How does the chemical makeup of fluoropolymers set them apart from other PFAS?
96% of fluoropolymers have been demonstrated to meet the OECD’s criteria for “polymers of low concern,” as they do not present significant toxicity concerns and cannot degrade into other PFAS under normal conditions of use.3
Fluoropolymers have a specific set of physicochemical properties that set them apart from other PFAS. Under normal operating conditions, at and above degradation temperatures, their unique properties ensure they do not break down into harmful chemicals.
- Durable, stable and mechanically strong in harsh conditions in a variety of sectors;
- Stable in air, water, sunlight, chemicals and in a microbial environment;
- Chemically inert meeting the requirements for low levels of contaminants and particulates in manufacturing environments;
- Non-wetting, non-stick and highly resistant to temperature, fire and weather.
What does “forever” or “persistent chemicals” mean? Does this refer to fluoropolymers?
The terms “forever” and “persistent chemicals” relate to substances which once released into the environment, remain there for extremely long periods of time. However, persistence is not a hazard, and persistency does not equate to toxicity, bioaccumulation or mobility within the environment or human body.
Fluoropolymers do not break down into potentially harmful chemicals once released into the environment. With their unmatched durability, fluoropolymers remain stable even in extreme conditions, which presents strong benefits in terms of consistency and safety compared to other alternatives.
The durability of fluoropolymers also means they do not need to be replaced as much as their alternatives, which implies less chemical waste is being generated, and in turn, decreased human contact and thus increased safety.
Why are fluoropolymers critical for today’s society?
The unique characteristics of fluoropolymers make them a critical material for a broad range of industries and sectors, playing a diverse and crucial role for society.
Beyond their socio-economic value for European industry, their unique stability means that they are low-risk polymers for human health and their environment. Trying to replace them in their many applications would lead to substitution with alternatives (when available) that do not provide the same advanced performance and safety as fluoropolymers.
What industries are fluoropolymers used in and how do they add value?
Here are but a few examples of their high societal value:
- In the transport industry, fluoropolymers provide durable and effective protection against heat, aggressive fluids and fuels, humidity, vibrations and compressions. Fluoropolymers therefore prolong the useful life of various components critical for performance, emission control, and safety in both the automotive and aerospace industries, including lithium batteries.
- When it comes to the chemicals industry, fluoropolymers allow for the safe storage and handling of chemicals through protective equipment and linings. Their chemical stability allows them to be resistant to some of the most corrosive substances on the market, protecting works and equipment from harm.
- Fluoropolymers also play an important role in the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries, preventing drug contamination and material failure. This protects lives and saves costs across the sector.
- In the electronics industry, fluoropolymers are critical to the semiconductor manufacturing process. Here various fluoropolymer components can stand up to the aggressive etching chemicals and provide the necessary purity required in the production of microchips and other electronics, where even trace contaminants can severely affect production yield.
- Fluoropolymers are an indispensable driver of the European Green Deal – for example, across smart mobility, clean energy and sustainable industry – and are used within various components of renewable energy installations, such as hydrogen and PV panels. In addition, they facilitate advanced energy storage and conversion technologies such as lithium-ion batteries.
How important are fluoropolymers to the European economy?
Fluoropolymers play a crucial role in the European economy, allowing for significant efficiency gains across many different sectors. The production and sale of fluoropolymers themselves has a significant socioeconomic impact on the EU: an estimated 49,000 tonnes are produced annually in the EU28/EEA, with 24,000 tonnes exported outside the EU28/EEA and around 15,000 tonnes imported.
The two largest sectors for fluoropolymer sales in 2020 were transport (15,500 tonnes worth €280 million) and chemical & power (11,000 tonnes worth €200 million).
Without fluoropolymers, the European industry would struggle to compete on a global scale with countries where they still could be used. Therefore, they are critical for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the EU industry and are key enablers of innovation in the EU.
How important are fluoropolymers to European innovation?
EU fluoropolymer manufacturing is a highly innovative sector, with an estimated €43 million invested in research and development (R&D) in 2015. Given the unique characteristics and critical uses of fluoropolymers, attempts to restrict their use are harmful to European innovation.
Fluoropolymers are needed in many cutting-edge industries, such as in semiconductors, lithium batteries and surgically implantable medical devices. Without access to fluoropolymers, European developers and manufacturers will have to seek alternative substances which will lack the same necessary characteristics. The use of inferior materials will have a direct impact on the quality of production, stunting European innovation, while giving the rest of the world a competitive edge.
Fluoropolymers have contributed to driving the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) in Europe. They have contributed to breakthroughs in microprocessor wafer size increases, node reductions and processing efficiencies that were needed for connecting billions of devices to the internet.
In addition, fluoropolymer cable constructions with excellent electric properties comply with the demanding high-volume data transfer and fire safety specifications of data centres, e.g. cloud centres.
Fluoropolymers are also key enablers of the transition to renewable energy sources, as their unique properties make them crucial for the roll-out of hydrogen installations and battery cells, wind turbines, and solar panels.
How do fluoropolymers contribute to the European Green Deal?
Fluoropolymers are an indispensable driver of the European Green Deal, exhibiting a unique combination of properties within various components in renewable energy installations and low-emissions transport technologies. They are helping drive the shift towards renewable energy, build more efficient industries across Europe and enable lower-emission transport.
Fluoropolymers play a critical role in the construction of photovoltaic panels, wind energy installations and lithium-ion batteries along with energy storage facilities, helping ensure the EU’s future renewable energy mix. Without advanced polymers such as fluoropolymers, goals such as the European Battery Alliance (EBA) and the Strategic Action Plan for Batteries would not be possible.
How do fluoropolymers support the transition to a circular economy?
As they are highly durable, fluoropolymers play an important role in extending the lifespan of a range of products, such as flexible plastic-based food packaging.
- A fluoropolymer coating on flexible plastic-based food packaging can help keep food fresh, thereby reducing food waste.
- In the electronics industry, fluoropolymers improve the functionality, reliability, and lifespan of ever-smaller microprocessors and other electrical components, thanks to superior chemical resistance and higher purity.
Fluoropolymer coatings provide resistance to fire, water, weather, and even corrosive chemicals, thus ensuring that goods can stay in service for longer. They reduce waste, as well as energy consumption, specifically within the architecture and transport sectors.
Furthermore, they are key enablers of clean energy production and provide important contributions to applications that reduce, prevent or remove pollution such as PV panels or wind turbines.
How do fluoropolymers support the decarbonisation of the European economy?
Fluoropolymers are vital for the decarbonisation of the European economy, being a critical material in renewable energy installations. The installed capacity of both PV and wind energy is increasing quickly and fluoropolymers are also used in energy storage systems, such as PEM fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries, helping to decarbonise the transport sector and to drive the hydrogen economy.
Greater use of these technologies is important to meet growing energy demands, whilst also reducing carbon emissions.
- The use of these batteries is growing rapidly, with an expected annual growth rate of 11% from 2018 to 2025, worth approximately $73 billion by 2025.
- While initial growth was driven by consumer electronics, and their use in mobile phones, tablets and power tools, demand increases are expected from electric vehicles. Part of the uptake will depend on providing a solution which lowers costs while increasing performance.
- Biaxially oriented polyvinylidene fluoride (PVdF) film has unique properties (e.g. abrasion and corrosion resistance), and its potential for use in bilayer films is expected to support the further development of lithium-ion battery technology.
In the aviation industry, another key sector in the push for decarbonisation, fluoropolymers are used in vital components in the construction of aircraft. Alongside the benefits of greater durability, these components are also lightweight. Consequently, this reduces the weight of aircraft, reducing the jet fuel consumed in-flight.
How are fluoropolymers helping to achieve the production of renewable hydrogen in the EU?
In view of the European Commission’s 2020 Hydrogen Strategy, fluoropolymers are a necessary material for achieving the core goal of boosting the production of renewable hydrogen in the EU.
Fluoropolymer-based ion exchange membranes in water electrolysers offer an environmentally safe way to generate large amounts of hydrogen, without emitting CO₂.
Fuel cells also convert hydrogen to electricity, which is crucial in reaching the target to grow the share of renewable hydrogen in the EU’s energy mix. Proton Exchange Membranes (PEMs) rely on fluoropolymer ion exchange membranes and on other fluoropolymers as key components in their construction.
Do fluoropolymers impact human health?
Fluoropolymers have no negative impact on human health when used as intended, as further confirmed in a 2022 in-depth assessment of fluoropolymers against the OECD polymer of low concern (PLC) criteria.
With a molecular weight of over 100,000 DA (Daltons), fluoropolymers are too large to cross cell membranes and contaminate vital organs. When used in medical devices, clinical studies have also shown that they are neither carcinogenic nor harmful to the reproductive or endocrinal systems.
Alongside uses in vital medical devices, fluoropolymers are used to avoid contamination of drugs and other critical substances. Restricting fluoropolymers would in fact put the health of Europe’s people at risk.
What happens when fluoropolymers reach the end of their lifespan?
Fluoropolymers reaching the end of their lifespan can be safely treated and disposed of, without any significant impact on the environment. They can be processed separately to avoid contamination of wastewater streams.
There are three main ways in which they can be processed. The first is through mechanical FOR recycling, which is currently not widespread in Europe. The second and most popular option is by treating them in a waste-to-energy process, i.e., incineration with energy recovery, currently around 80% of fluoropolymers are treated this way. The third and final option is a regrinding process.
Recent peer-reviewed studies on the disposal of end-of-life PTFE have shown incineration to be an appropriate way to dispose of the fluoropolymer with no environmental concern.
What environmental risks does the production of fluoropolymers pose?
As with any industry, improper processing and handling of fluoropolymers may lead to emissions into the environment. However, as an industry with responsible manufacturing at its core, the members of the Fluoropolymers Product Group ensure rigorous applications of existing environmental regulations and strict adherence to the Best Available Techniques (BATs) for the industry.
If present in the environment, fluoropolymers do not break down into harmful chemicals such as PFOA, are insoluble in water and have been proven to be non-toxic.
The threat of accidental emissions spreading is limited, thus reducing the potential environmental and human health threats. To help clean up spills, there is a growing number of bioremediation projects on the market, with the aim of removing fluoropolymers that have accidentally ended up in the environment.
Fluoropolymers and EU strategic autonomy
How do fluoropolymers contribute to the EU strategic autonomy in the digital sector?
Semiconductors, also known as chips or circuits, are mainly produced in Asia, and exports from these countries account for around 70% of total trade. For many years, the European Union and other major players have been increasingly dependent on semiconductor imports which are essential for achieving several strategic objectives, including with regards to the EU Green Deal.
In the run to achieve strategic independence and ambitious green targets, fluoropolymers play an important part. They are an integral component of the semiconductor production infrastructure and the wider electronics industry thanks to their excellent chemical resistance, high dielectric strength, resistance to high temperatures and higher purity.
Fluoropolymers are critical for the manufacturing infrastructure of microprocessors used in personal, industrial, and professional high-tech electronic devices. They also help meet the needs of the ever-evolving design complexities and miniaturization in semiconductors for a wide range of electronic devices and the data transfer between these devices.
How can fluoropolymers ensure EU strategic autonomy in the energy sector?
In light of tensions with Russia and the war in Ukraine, it is more important than ever to ensure the European Union’s energy independence and deliver on the green transition.
Fluoropolymers are key enablers of the transition to renewable energy sources, as their unique properties make them an integral part of energy installations such as hydrogen, wind turbines, solar panels, and battery cells.
Regulatory context of fluoropolymers
Firefighting Foam Restriction (FFF)
Fluoropolymers are mentioned in the proposal to restrict PFAS in Firefighting Foams – see here. FPG however, has confirmed to ECHA that none of the FPG members sell their fluoropolymers for fire-fighting foam applications.
Fluoropolymers do not have the appropriate hydrophilicity (water solubility) and film-forming properties to allow them to be effective FFF ingredients. Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, fluoropolymers are neither used during the production of FFF, nor present in purchasable FFF and not part of any potential degradation products of FFF.
On 13 January 2023, the Competent Authorities of Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are expected to submit a REACH restriction proposal for all PFAS, including fluoropolymers. The authorities have been preparing their dossier since 2020, holding calls for evidence in 2020 and in 2021 to which FPG and other stakeholders responded.
The possible date for entry into force of a restriction of PFAS is 2025.