ESG - Environmental Social Governance

PFAS Update: PTFE is vital for today's industries

The critical role of PTFE in today's industry in the midst of the PFAS debate.

Amidst ongoing PFAS discussions, Alberto Rocca, newly appointed Business Development Manager for the Sealing Division at KLINGER Group, sheds light on the indispensable role of PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), particularly as a gasket material.

Alberto, with his extensive experience in the sealing industry and his recent appointment at KLINGER Group, shares his insights on the ongoing PFAS debate (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). He emphasizes the critical role of PTFE – being one of over more than 9,000 substances on the list – in various industries and the challenges posed by potential regulations. Alberto states, "The focus on PFAS has brought unprecedented attention to PTFE, a staple in the sealing industry that has been on the market for 60-70 years."

ESA's proactive approach

As a member – and former chairman – of the European Sealing Association (ESA), Alberto details their collaboration with Ricardo for a market study on PTFE perception.

"Only 20% of current gaskets can be replaced in the next 12 years. PTFE is fundamental in the gasket business." 

Alberto Rocca, Business Development Manager for the Sealing Division at KLINGER Holding

Rocca highlights the difficulty in finding alternatives to PTFE. "There is no real alternative at the moment. PTFE's unique properties are irreplaceable, particularly below 300°C," he explains. This poses significant challenges for industries reliant on PTFE.

Contacts mentioned in the article:

Alberto Rocca, Business Development Manager for the Sealing Division at KLINGER Holding

Exceptional installation lifetime of PTFE

The durability of PTFE, especially in demanding environments where chemical resistance and temperature stability are crucial, is unsurpassed to date. This material, known for its resilience, can maintain its properties and effectiveness for extended periods, often exceeding a decade, without significant degradation. This aspect is especially vital in applications like hydrogen electrolyzers, where PTFE is the preferred choice due to its ability to ensure operational integrity over long durations.

The impact on different industries

With a market size for PTFE gaskets of about USD 1.4 billion in 2021 the absence of PTFE would profoundly affect various sectors, Alberto warns. "Automotive, oil & gas, and especially the medical field, where alternatives are nonexistent, would face major disruptions.” However, he is optimistic about innovations, yet realistic about the challenges. "There's ongoing research for alternatives, but PTFE's unique advantages, particularly in chemical resistance, make it hard to replace," he asserts. While the ‘bad’ PFAS have already been phased out by companies like KLINGER Group, the reality is that it’s a complex task with few feasible alternatives currently available.

The list of PFAS comprises 9,000 substances, one of them being PTFE.

Global perspectives on PFAS regulation

The approach to PFAS regulation varies significantly across the US, China, and Europe, painting a diverse global regulatory landscape. Alberto notes, "In Europe, the proposed focus is on a broad ban, regardless of how fluoropolymers such as PTFE are produced, leading to stringent regulations." This contrasts sharply with the US, where the emphasis is on reporting and monitoring the use of PFAS, rather than outright bans. The Toxic Substances Control Act in the US, for instance, mandates reporting but does not necessarily restrict the use of all PFAS substances. In Asia Pacific, including China, the conversation around PFAS is less pronounced, with no immediate plans for similar regulations.

This regional disparity poses unique challenges for international companies, as Alberto points out, "Europe's stringent stance could lead to competitive disadvantages, as companies in the US and Asia Pacific aren't subject to the same restrictions." This difference in regulatory approaches highlights the need for nuanced strategies to navigate the complex global landscape of PFAS and PTFE usage.

ESA's next steps

ESA is now presenting their findings to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA). The members of ESA are working with local governments to raise awareness about the industry's challenges. As for the timeline, Alberto indicates that a decision from the ECHA is expected around the end of 2024, a crucial juncture that will significantly influence the industry's direction. This period of uncertainty underscores the importance of ESA's role in representing industry concerns and seeking solutions that are both feasible and sustainable. He suggests, “We might see rules on how PTFE products are used and disposed of, rather than a complete ban".

An illustration of seals made of PFAS and PTFE.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is the 'Black and White' technology in the context of PTFE?

The 'Black and White' technology refers to a temperature-based categorization in the sealing industry. Below 300°C, white materials like PTFE are used for their chemical compatibility and versatility. Above 300°C, black materials, typically graphite, are preferred due to their heat resistance.

How will the PFAS regulations impact the future of the sealing industry?

With the proposed PFAS regulations, particularly in Europe, there could be significant changes in the sealing industry. These regulations might lead to stricter controls on the use of PTFE, necessitating research into alternative materials or modified usage guidelines.

Are there any viable alternatives to PTFE currently available?

While the industry continues to search for alternatives to PTFE, especially in light of the PFAS debate, finding a material that matches PTFE's versatility and performance is challenging. Current alternatives have their limitations and do not offer the same breadth of application as PTFE.

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