This Is Plastics: Fluoropolymers Do What Other Materials Can’t

Plastics 101

Fluoropolymers Do What Other Materials Can’t

Fluoropolymers ensure safety, reliability and performance in numerous applications across major markets and cutting-edge technologies.


Top 3 Takeaways

What are fluoropolymers?

Fluoropolymers are fluorocarbon-based, high-performance plastics used in many unique, highly specialized applications where other materials simply cannot perform. For example, fluoropolymers are an essential part in cable wiring because they have the unique ability to withstand high heat and corrosive environments where other products cannot function. Their nonadhesive and low-friction properties are unmatched, making them the best solution for applications in markets including aerospace, electronics and telecommunications. Fluoropolymers are virtually maintenance free, even in the most extreme conditions.

Why are fluoropolymers so valuable?

Through their use in many different applications, from the telecommunications industry to the automotive industry, they make life safer and more efficient for millions of people every day.

What are the different types of fluoropolymers?

Not all fluoropolymers are created equal. Each have unique qualities that are beneficial. We can break them into categories based on their physical properties, processing characteristics and uses.

  • Homopolymers (i.e., polytetrafluoroethylene [PTFE])—As the name suggests, these are made up of one specific monomer. Fluoropolymers in this category (including PTFE) are sold in a granular or powder form, which is melted down and extruded, compression molded into components, or combined with water or other solvents and sprayed onto a surface. This helps protect surfaces from exposure to chemicals, friction or temperature changes.
  • Copolymers (i.e., fluorinated ethylene propylene [FEP], perfluoroalkoxy polymer [PFA])—Copolymers, on the other hand, are made up of more than one specific monomer, bonded together to give the material additional qualities. These fluoropolymers can be processed much like many other types of engineering-grade plastics; they’re often injection molded or extruded.
  • Fluoroelastomers (FKM)/perfluoroelastomers (FFKM)—Elastomers are rubber-like plastic materials that return to their original shape after being deformed. Fluoroelastomers possess the same characteristics as elastomers but with additional nonadhesive, low-friction, and chemical-and temperature resistant-properties that make them even more useful in certain applications.

How are fluoropolymers used?

Fluoropolymers are the go-to materials for specific applications in many important industries and high-intensity applications. Without them, safety and performance in crucial areas could be compromised.

Fluoropolymers have high temperature/chemical resistance, low flammability and unique electrical performance. Because of this, they increase passenger protection and reliability on commercial, private and military aircrafts. They’re also used in wire and cable insulation, fuel and hydraulic hoses, seals/bushing and even space apparel for astronauts.

With unmatched temperature and chemical resistance, unique electrical performance and decreased friction, fluoropolymers are high-performance plastics that help manufacturers produce lighter-weight vehicles that are extremely reliable. They’re used in fuel and brake hoses and tubing, control cables and under-hood wire.

Chemical/petrochemical processing
Fluoropolymers help create nonstick surfaces in applications that require temperature resistance. They’re used in lined pipes, valves, pumps, tank and reactor linings, gaskets and seals. They’re crucial to the safety of workers and the public, as they keep all kinds of equipment and chemical systems secured. They also benefit businesses by increasing productivity and decreasing the potential for accidents.

Semiconductor/electronics manufacturing
Fluoropolymers are used to boost productivity and purity in an array of processes, helping manufacturers create high-quality, cost-effective products. Since other materials lack the chemical and temperature resistance and electrical performance of fluoropolymers, they’re the number-one choice.

Because of their electrical performance, fire resistance and optical properties, fluoropolymers are used in wire insulation, local area network (LAN) cables, mainframe wiring, satellite wiring and fiber-optic cladding and cable. Fluoropolymers, which act as the material of choice for wire insulation in our complex telecommunications system, allow us to stay connected to the world around us.

What are the concerns about fluoropolymers?

Certain fluoropolymers are increasingly the subject of media attention and scrutiny, and there can be some confusion about fluoropolymers. Are they safe? This confusion stems more from the materials used to produce fluoropolymers than from the polymers themselves.

The fluoropolymers used today are safe.

Historically, fluoropolymers were processed using two types of acid—PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid). Because of their unique properties, these chemicals are persistent in the environment and, if found in the body, PFOA and PFOS can accumulate over time. Although their health effects are uncertain, there is a possibility that exposure to PFOA and PFOS can have negative impacts on human health.

Importantly, PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the U.S. When concerns arose about these processing materials, eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and other long-chain fluorinated substances in their products, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) PFOA Stewardship Program. Significant New Use Rules (SNURs), which have the weight of EPA regulations, generally prevent companies from importing or manufacturing such perfluorinated chemicals without prior approval by the EPA.

After the removal of PFOA and PFOS, companies developed alternatives to these long-chain fluorinated substances that perform the same tasks without the same environmental or public health risks. All of these replacements are safe to use according to governmental agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA.

Want to do more?

Still have questions?