Technology long-used in Europe is finally starting to infiltrate the North American market, and new plastic pipe materials are emerging as a result.
The slow North American adoption of European technology is nothing new in pipe. Cross-linked polyethylene pipe has been used in plumbing and heating applications for decades in Europe.
PEX is finally catching on domestically, both in plumbing and radiant floor heating. Following suit are other pipe materials expected to gain a greater market foothold in the coming months and years, according to speakers at the Plastics Pipes XIII conference, held Oct. 2-5 in Washington.
Among those materials are molecularly oriented PVC, or PVCO; the next generation of PE resins, the PE4710s; and engineering nylon resins like PA11 and PA12.
Much of the discussion thus far, particularly for the next generation of PE and nylon resins, is focused on natural gas distribution. The materials share similar properties in that they can handle more pressure, show greater tensile and impact strength, and greater resistance to cracking than their like-material predecessors.
PE is the most common of the next-generation plastics, and pipe officials already are in the midst of an effort to differentiate bimodal PE100 technology from the more-standard PE80 in building codes.
Heather Lau, North America market manager for plastic pipe at Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co., compared the next-generation PE100 technology, PE4710, to high-definition TV.
``This is a game-changing technology. The bar has been raised,'' Lau said.
Arkema Inc. of Philadelphia expects its Rilsan-brand PA11 resin to compete with ferrous materials, as well as PE, in natural gas applications.
John Houle, market development manager for Eugene, Ore.-based pipe maker PW Eagle Inc., spoke on the merits of PVCO at the conference. His test data findings show PVCO to be a top-performing material when compared with ductile iron, PVC and PE.
``PVCO is to PVC as ductile iron is to cast iron - a stronger material is able to provide a thinner-walled yet more resilient pipe,'' Houle said in a technical paper.
Engineers make PVCO by realigning molecules in PVC resin, he said. ``The pressure-carrying capacity goes up about 80 percent,'' Houle said Oct. 24 by telephone. ``But it ends up being not just higher strength in terms of pressure capacity, but a lot higher in impact strength, as well.''
Houle said PW Eagle, already a market leader in PVC pipe, is the only North American firm making PVCO pipe. But he is expecting other firms to enter the market. Barriers include the initial cost of equipment and increased labor involved in making it, he said.
But PW Eagle is so committed to the material that it's adding a PVCO line at its Cameron Park, Calif., plant, and it has further expansion plans, Houle said.
It's only a matter of time before PVCO becomes an established, accepted material for pipe on this continent, he said.