A 5-year-old vinyl industry research effort has uncovered some promising innovations, but it also has met its share of disappointment.
The $6 million effort, funded by 21 companies, was designed to pool resources to advance general vinyl industry research goals. The results thus far: success in higher-temperature processing but disappointment in finding the Holy Grail of metallocenes that work in PVC.
The effort started under the wing of the Edison Polymer Innovation Corp. with financial support from the state of Ohio, but it has since gone entirely industry-funded, said Charles Wilkes, an organizer of the group and president of Pilgrim Consulting Group. Wilkes delivered an update on its activities at the World Vinyl Forum 2, held Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in Chantilly.
He said the group has identified three key areas where it thinks research advances could open up markets worth several billion dollars: new compatibilizers, living radical polymerization and nonmetal thermal heat stabilizers.
Thus far, 11 patents have been applied for and three granted.
James Summers, a senior research and development fellow at PolyOne Corp. in Cleveland, said the work with compatibilizers could lead to PVC being used in higher-temperature applications such as hot-water pipe, dark windows, automobile under-the-hood applications and solar collectors.
The research on living radical polymerization could open up doors for PVC in skins for invisible air bags in car doors, said Robert Eller, president of consulting firm Robert Eller Associates Inc. in Akron, Ohio.
``This technology shows promise in meeting one of the chief objections to PVC in current and near-term applications,'' he said.
Wilkes said the research also might make it possible to build materials with plasticizers that do not migrate.
The original research looked at nine areas with commercial prospects, with a potential market of about $7.5 billion. The consortium picked challenging research targets for improving the performance of PVC, including an area that Wilkes said was one of the most important they looked at, trying to incorporate metallocenes in PVC.
But that effort will finish in December after four years of work without making any significant progress.
``While metallocene catalysts have stimulated yet another revolution for polyolefins, they still represent the unobtained Holy Grail for PVC,'' Wilkes said.