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Dow Chemical licenses polymeric flame retardant technology

By: Frank Esposito

July 22, 2013

Dow Chemical Co. has licensed its polymeric flame retardant technology to three firms, including one that has begun commercial production of the material.

Materials made with the Dow technology are designed to replace hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) a common flame retardant that’s been labeled a pollutant with possible human health risks. Dow’s polymeric FR technology can be used as a drop-in replacement for HBCD, Dow executive Greg Bergtold said in a recent phone interview. HBCD is scheduled to be phased out in Europe by 2015 and in Canada by 2017.

Chemtura Inc. began making the new materials earlier this year at its plant in El Dorado, Ark. That plant will be able to make more than 20 million pounds of the additives per year. Albemarle Corp. is expected to begin production by the end of the year, while ICL Industrial Products should do so by mid-2014. ICL also will operate more than 20 million pounds of capacity for the material.

Neither Albemarle nor ICL have said where they’ll make the flame retardants. Both firms operate production sites in the U.S. and Europe.

Bergtold — North American technical service and development leader for Midland, Mich.-based Dow — said that the firm chose to license the technology because “from our perspective, we’re not in the flame retardant supply industry.” He added that by licensing the technology, Dow is allowing its three supply partners “to go into any channel they see fit…and to tweak the material as needed.”

Dow is content with having three licenses and is not looking to add more at this time, according to Bergtold.

Dow researchers began developing the polymeric FR technology in 2005 in an attempt to find “more sustainable solutions for plastic foam,” he added. The technology won several awards during 2012, including runner-up in the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation competition and winning the fourth Annual Michigan Green Chemistry Governor’s Award.

Flame retardants made with the new technology are expected to be used in extruded and expanded polystyrene foam insulation used in the construction market and related fields. Dow will use the technology in its own Styrofoam-brand extruded PS foam plants worldwide. The conversion will begin at Dow Styrofoam plants in Japan this year. Dow officials said the new material allows these PS foams to continue to meet the demands of global energy efficiency regulations and sustainable building design.

Rigid building insulation will be one use of the new technology. Bergtold said both residential and commercial structures could use materials made with the new technology.