NEW ORLEANS - Three more challengers to the PVC throne got in line at Flexpo 99, held June 23-25 in New Orleans.
Montell NV of Hoofddorp, the Netherlands; Huntsman Corp. of Salt Lake City; and Pirelli Cavi e Sistemi SpA of Milan, Italy, each touted products which, officials claimed, can take away a chunk of the massive markets held by flexible PVC.
Concerns about alleged health risks could create an opportunity for Montell's Catalloy-brand specialty polymers in medical, film and sheet, roofing membranes and other markets, according to Paolo Galli, president of Montell Technologies in Ferrara, Italy.
``Although from a scientific point of view the concerns about PVC and phthalates are questionable, there can be no doubt that the public at large, and consequently our customers who make products, are taking these concerns seriously,'' Galli said.
``As polymer scientists, we may feel these trends may not always be based on sound scientific evidence, but we have to accept that public concerns about health play a more and more important role in the marketplace.''
Production of Catalloy-based products, including recently introduced Clyrell-brand resins for cast film uses, is expected to total almost 575 million pounds this year and to climb to nearly 675 million pounds in 2000.
At Huntsman, officials are billing Rexflex-brand flexible polyolefins as promising PVC replacements.
Rexflex offers higher elongation and initial strength than flexible PVC in medical bags, according to Huntsman staff scientist Vassilios Galiatsatos.
Bondable grades of Rexflex also have been used to replace flexible PVC in medical tubing. The material's only drawback has been its tacky feel, which Galiatsatos said is being improved through new research.
Pirelli has introduced polyolefin-based, non-PVC compounds into the wire and cable market because of the dark smoke and hydrogen chloride given off by burning PVC.
The materials, which first were commercialized in Europe in 1998 and could be available in the United States as early as next year, are cost-competitive with PVC and offer good mechanical properties, according to Franco Peruzzotti, Pirelli's research and development materials director.
Pirelli, which makes both compounds and end products for the wire and cable market, is working to improve the compounds' ability to be mixed and processed, Peruzzotti said.
But PVC isn't taking the challenges lying down. Several new products should expand PVC's boundaries and keep the material vital for years to come, said Robert Brookman, vice president of PVC compounder Teknor Apex of Pawtucket R.I.
Those products include ultrahigh-molecular-weight PVC from Teknor, Colorite Polymers of Ridgefield, N.J., and AlphaGary Corp. of Leominster, Mass. Other products include plasticizer-free PVC alloys from Teknor, AlphaGary and Geon Co. of Avon Lake, Ohio; and PVC/thermoplastic vulcanizate blends developed by several European firms.
Brookman also is optimistic about PVC graft polymers and structurally ordered PVC being developed by the Edison Polymer Innovation Center based at the University of Akron. The structurally ordered material could offer molecular control similar to that of metallocene material, and improve PVC's flame-retardant properties, heat resistance and gas transmission, Brookman said.But Brookman concedes that criticism of PVC has the industry at a crossroads.
``We're at the point where decisions have to be made - fabricators and buyers have to decide whether they'll continue to buy and use vinyl products,'' he said. ``Hopefully sound science will prevail over junk science and emotionalism.''