PLASTICS IN THE WORLD
IN 2020, PLASTINDIA, DELHI 2003
Françoise Pardos, Pardos Marketing, February 2006
For the last 70 years, plastics have been a success story, for their
unique features. Plastics are the miracle materials, with almost
infinite combinations of various molecules creating these multiple
polymers, in the true heart of matter. The main characteristic of
plastics is to offer a combination of many properties, none outstanding,
but the synergy of all creating their very value to many applications.
In the vast and ever growing number of plastics, there are a few
- Commodity plastics, the large volume polymers,
priced at $ 2 or much less per kilo, with world markets from 1 to
over 30 million tons.
- Engineering plastics, $ 2 to 5 per kilo, with
markets between 100 000 and close to 2 million tons.
- Specialty plastics, high performance polymers,
$ 10 to 100 and more per kilo, from a few hundred to 65 000 tons.
- Structural high performance composites, with
high performance reinforcements, such as carbon fiber, CF, aramid,
high performance PE, R, S and T glass, and a high performance matrix,
of specialty thermoplastics or of epoxy.
These four categories are the true plastics, which take concrete
forms by various conversion processes, extrusion, into film, sheet,
pipes, molding, blow molding, and many others of lesser volume importance.
The total of all these plastics, as identified, is currently about
160 million tons, in 2002, up from 154 million tons in 2000, because
there was almost no growth in the industrialized countries between
2000 and 2002. These figures are slightly smaller that what is usually
heard, because they do not include the plastics in liquid forms.
These polymers are used as majority contents in products such as
paints, adhesives, binders, yet they often are of the same chemicals
as the converted plastics, thermosets, acrylics, vinylics.
Some engineering plastics, such as nylon and saturated polyester,
PET, have a large commodity base, in synthetic fibers.
The term “engineering” is not very clear. A number of
commodity plastics may have engineering applications, there are many
examples, such as PVC pipes for industry, molded electrical parts
of PVC or PP, car batteries of PP, gas tanks of PEHD, technical parts
of PS. There are many overlapping areas with ABS, UP, PMMA and PP
directly competing with engineering plastics, in boxes, enclosures,
supporting parts, car parts.
A number of plastics have applications both as commodity and as
engineering plastics, like PP, PET in films and in moldable applications,
These somehow esoteric distinctions are increasingly blurred, as
new materials enter and polymers are combined to create the vast
family of ABC, alloys, blends, composites.
The many new styrenic terpolymers further reduce the gap between
commodity and engineering plastics. This is for instance the case
of the SPS that aims at replacing PBT. The same can be said about
the best grades of PP.
The alloys of different polymers, the modification with elastomers,
also tend to create entirely new materials that can compete with
the engineering plastics. The largest volume alloys are PC/ABS, PC/PBT
Thermoset plastics, like unsaturated polyester, UP, can take many
forms, SMC, BMC, PMC, or are converted with processes like injection
molding that allow them to compete with the more efficient thermoplastics.
All this is to show the broad variety and complexity, and the ambiguity
of definitions. The most distinctive feature of engineering and specialty
plastics is the higher temperature resistance, combined with better
mechanical and chemical properties.
Many polymers are thus at the border line between these categories.
Over the years, continuous efforts, in the announcements of new polymers
or of new grades, or blends, have been hailed as “filling a
gap”, “bridging a price/performance ratio”, in
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