The Future of High-Performance Elastomers to 2024
In 2018, high-performance elastomers only represented just over 4.6% of the total global elastomer market. Nevertheless, they more than make up for this with their well-above-average revenue and profitability. Their technological demands limit the number of producers to those that are willing to devote relatively large sums of money for research and development.
Production systems are both complex and costly and their base raw materials are rarely commonly found. Their monomers or precursors are also difficult to produce. Some elastomers, such as those which contain halogens, are subject to the very highest levels of safety precautions, due to the highly toxic nature of their raw materials.
Nevertheless, there are producers that are willing to face these challenges, even with such very high entry barriers. Once inside, these barriers serve as a strong obstacle against competition. Indeed, the highest level of competition is not so much from products of the same composition, but rather from quite different high-performance elastomers, vying for the same challenging business.
In light of all of the above, the general consensus is that there will be an increasing demand for high-performance elastomers. This article looks at some of the key application areas for high-performance elastomers, and some of the elastomer developments in each sector.
Transportation end uses present the most important part of the global high-performance elastomer market. Automotive applications present the most important part of this sector. The increasing demands for high heat and chemical resistance being imposed on the automotive OEMs by the automotive constructors are driving this expanding market. Under-the-bonnet (hood) temperatures are increasing, as higher-performance and smaller and much more powerful motors are being installed in an increasingly confined space.
The current demand in the automotive industry is for a combination of high heat and chemical resistance, especially for under-the-bonnet (hood) hoses, and in particular for diesel-powered engines. Silicone elastomers have a relatively large share of this hose market, which is attractive to suppliers of acrylate elastomers, among others.
Aerospace and rail transport are increasing their use of high-performance elastomers as they recognise that standard elastomers can no longer fulfil requirements. These two industries are rapidly expanding as the need for high performance under increasingly demanding conditions drives their needs for higher-performance solutions.
Of all the current developments, vehicles based on autonomous and e-mobility technologies is the one receiving the highest level of press coverage. It is not entirely clear at this time as to what precisely is required by elastomers in this growing application. Cable insulation needs will grow, and therefore chemical and heat resistance will still be needed. If the vehicles are battery-driven, silicone elastomers will be needed for component encapsulation.
Applications for high-performance elastomers in the medical sector are diverse. They include anaesthetic tubing, body contact electrodes, prosthetic or surgical implants, and even pressure-sensitive adhesives for transdermal drug delivery. Medical devices and components are required to be produced under the ISO 13845 standard if they are to be made for medical use.
Many applications require a high level of transparency, which favours use of silicone elastomers. Therefore, they are the most used elastomers in this end-user category. Silicone elastomers benefit further in this segment because of other properties such as purity, heat and gamma radiation resistance; as well as being very patient-friendly.
The medical market offers strong growth opportunities for high-performance elastomers, such as aliphatic thermoplastic elastomers (A-TPU), for instance. There are a number of applications of interest here – these include breathable textiles, tubing and catheters, tube connectors, and also coated paper, for ostomy applications. Such materials must conform to USP Class VI and ISO DIN 10993.
The building, construction and civil engineering industries are a very large consumer of silicones, in one form or another. These are manly in the form of crosslinkable gels, which are used predominantly as seals in bathrooms, toilets and kitchens; as well as in window-sealing putties. These applications do not call for elastomers in the high-performance category, however.
This particular application segment is growing more slowly than many others, being as it is closely connected to the overall growth for building, construction and civil engineering worldwide.
Vibration dampers for bridges and seismic-protection structures are an important application for certain high-performance elastomers. EVM and A-TPUs are used extensively in the construction of solar panels. HNBR, FKM, FFKM and FEPM feature strongly in this demanding application. There is often a need to resist temperatures from -60°C up to +250°C in these extreme environments.
The future market demand for eight grades of high-performance elastomers across all major end-use, national and geographic markets is analysed and quantified in The Future of High-Performance Elastomers to 2024