HOUSTON (ICIS)--Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is one of the most useful and ubiquitous of plastics of modern life with hundreds of applications in dozens of end-use markets today.
Though invented by a series of accidental discoveries over decades around the turn of the 20th century, the plastic today, in its multiple forms, is driven by precise engineering approaches and finely tuned formulations.
To make the array of products that use PVC – from vinyl fences to blood bags, vehicle dashboards to water pipes – producers of PVC products have discovered and developed plasticizers, stabilisers and lubricants to create a range of formulations and plastic types.
“It is perhaps the most versatile thermoplastic known, given the array of products and properties that can be engineered,” said Mark Lavach, manager of polymer characterisation for Arkema.It is also the third-largest produced in the US by volume after polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). And US production capacity continues to grow as industry players seek to capitalise on cheap US feedstock, most notably ethylene from ethane.
The US produced about 6.67m tonnes of PVC in 2015, according to figures from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Plastics Industry Statistics Group. Of that, about 2.56m tonnes were sold in export markets, according to data from the US International Trade Commission (ITC).
Lavach is also the chairman of VinylTec 2016, the annual technical conference of the Society of Plastics Engineers, focused on new products and processes used in the manufacture, compounding and processing of PVC.
Running 20-22 September, the gathering starts with a workshop for employees new to the vinyls industry, followed by two days of presentations on new products, advances in production processes, computational molecular simulations, 3-D printing and the ever-changing regulatory environment and its influence on end-use markets.
VinylTec has been around for more than 50 years, Lavach said. It is aimed at the resins producers, compounders, additives makers, processors and others who comprise the North American industry.
“The thing that makes vinyls so valuable are the many things that you can do to adapt its properties and characteristics to meet market demands,” said Peggy Schipper, business director for lubricants at Valtris Specialty Chemicals and a coordinator of the conference. “I liken it to cooking.”
In the recent past, US resin producers, compounders, processors and others have cooked up new formulations to meet environmental concerns about phthalate plasticizers, or to maximise performance in various applications or to simply create new products.
VinylTec has helped further those efforts, Lavach said.
“A lot of new products have been introduced through VinylTec,” Lavach said. “It’s where a lot of new ideas are first showcased.”
Lavach, who is also chairman of ASTM International's D20 committee on plastics, emphasised that standards, including product specifications and testing, also will be a subject reviewed at this year’s conference. ASTM was formerly the American Society for Testing Materials.
Highlighting the global nature of the industry, VinylTec will include an update on REACH, the European initiative to protect human health and the environment through the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances.
Major US PVC producers include Formosa Plastics, Occidental Chemical, Shintech and Westlake Chemical. Westlake's $3.8bnn acquisition of Axiall was completed this week.
Focus article by Bill Bowen
INSET IMAGE: PVC, in its many forms and applications, will take center stage at this month's VinylTec conference in New Jersey. (WestEnd61/REX/Shutterstock)