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Extreme High Temperature Thermoplastics - Gateway to the Future or the Same Old Trail?

SpecialChem / Edward M. Petrie & Edward Petrie – Jan 30, 2012

This SpecialChem White Paper describes the materials, applications, and market sectors that rely on ultra-high temperature resistant thermoplastics. These are melt processable plastics that have structural capabilities over the long-term at service temperatures greater than 150 °C and short-term use at temperatures of greater than 250°C.

These materials represented are a specialized and rapidly growing segment of the plastics market. High temperature plastics require a combination of extraordinary properties. Depending on their application, they must have superior short and long-term thermal stability, chemical and radiation resistance, resistance to burning, and superior mechanical properties that are often equal to metals. Another distinguishing feature of high temperature plastics is their cost, which is on average 10 times higher than more general purpose plastics.

As a result, the technology and market for these materials are very dynamic and liable to have significant swings depending on industry consolidation, pricing pressure, technology developments, capacity expansions and, as most recently seen, global recession.

This SpecialChem White Paper is designed to provide a guide to current and developing high temperature thermoplastics and their applications. The intent is to provide a scenario of how developments are likely to occur in the near future. The report will identify the industries and subsectors that require higher heat resistant materials than those available today and which thermoplastics are most suited to meeting these requirements. It will also recognize the specific performance properties that are being sought after as well as other unmet needs.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Demand for High Temperature Plastics - Moderated by Market Turbulence
  3. An Introduction to High Temperature Thermoplastic Polymers
  4. High Temperature Thermoplastic Resins
    • Melt Processable Polyimides
    • Polysulfone Polymers
    • Polyphenylene Sulfide
    • Polyaryletherketones
    • Liquid Crystal Polymers
    • High Performance Polyamide (Polyphthalamide)
    • Polymer Selection Criteria (see Appendix)
  5. Market Sectors and Applications
    • Automotive
    • Aerospace
    • Electrical / Electronic
    • Industrial
    • Medical
  6. Demand for Improvements - Results of a SpecialChem Survey
  7. Developments and Materials for the Future
  8. Appendices:
    1. Polymer Selection Criteria: Properties, Strengths, and Limitations
    2. Opportunities for Higher Heat Materials at Horizon 2012-2016

      Part I: Market Trends for High Heat Materials:, Dr. Raphael Mestanza, Chief Innovation Officer, SpecialChem / Omnexus

      Part II: One Potential Solution to Meet Market Demands for Higher Heat Performance Comparative Performance Data & Case Studies on TPI Blends, Dr. Kapil Sheth & Peter Catsman, SABIC Innovative Plastics.

1.0 Introduction

High temperature thermoplastics are the most specialized and rapidly growing segment of the plastics market. It is also an extremely dynamic market that is liable to have significant swings depending on industry consolidation, pricing pressure, technology developments, capacity expansions and, as most recently seen, global recession.

High temperature plastics are used in specialized applications that require a combination of extraordinary properties. Depending on their application, they must have superior short and long-term thermal stability, chemical and radiation resistance, resistance to burning, and superior mechanical properties that are often equated to metals. Another distinguishing feature of high temperature plastics is their cost, which is on average 10 times higher than more general purpose plastics.

It is not only the excellent temperature capabilities of these polymers that has peaked interest and led to the relatively high growth rate. In many applications, their chemical resistance, wear resistance, and other performance properties are even more valued than heat resistance. Sometimes these thermoplastics are referred to as "high performance plastics".

This report is designed to provide a guide to current and developing high temperature thermoplastics and their applications. The intent is to provide a near-future scenario of how developments are likely to occur. The report will identify the industries and subsectors that require higher heat resistant thermoplastic materials than those available today and which polymers are most suited to meeting these requirements. It will also recognize the specific performance properties that are being sought and other unmet needs in these industries. The sources of information used to complete this study include the results of several SpecialChem client surveys, review of the technical literature, and the opinions of experts in the field.

The scope of this analysis is limited to melt processable thermoplastics that have structural capabilities at long-term service temperatures greater than 150°C and short-term use temperatures of greater than 250°C. High temperature thermoplastics that are not melt processable and must be formed by sintering or other processes are not considered in this analysis.

2.0 Demand for High Temperature Plastics – Moderated by Market Turbulence

The period from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s saw the emergence of high heat resistant plastics. These were originally designed for the aerospace industry, but gradually moved into the electrical / electronic, chemical, and automotive sectors as well as other niche markets such as medical. Today, the high temperature melt-processable thermoplastics market comprises a number of polymers which primarily include the following:

  • Polyetherimides (PEI)
  • Polyamideimide (PAI)
  • Polyaryletherketones: polyetheretherketone (PEEK) and polyetherketone (PEK)
  • Sulfone-based polymers: polysulfone (PSU), polyethersulfone (PES), and polyphenylsulfone (PPSU)
  • Polyphenylene sulfide (PPS)
  • Liquid crystal polymers (LCP)
  • Polyphthalamide (PPA)

Note also that there can be several polymer types within each of the families. The plastics industry commonly uses terms such as "high performance", "engineering polymers", and "standard" or "commodity" plastics to describe the applications for these materials. Figure 1 illustrates the placement of high performance or high temperature thermoplastics.

Pyramid of Plastic Performance

Figure 1. Pyramid of Plastic Performance

The recent market fortunes of high temperature plastics have followed most other markets that were heavily affected by the economic downturn in 2008. The world consumption of high temperature plastics in 2007 is shown in Table 1. It was expected that the growth rate would remain at double digits until 2015. This outlook was primarily due to innovative development of new applications (e.g., metal and thermoset polymer substitution, dedicated synthesis of new polymeric materials, and higher experience levels that were being accumulated with these plastics over the years since their introduction).

The worldwide economic crisis did considerable damage to manufacturing sectors using high temperature plastics, particularly in developed economies across North America and Europe. The high temperature plastics market recorded negative growth rate during 2008 and 2009, and it is slated to continue in a similar trajectory for the near future. The global market for high temperature plastics is now expected to reach $7.9 billion USD by 2015.

Despite the high average price compared to other engineering plastics and the current turbulent state of the global markets, high temperature thermoplastics are still considered to be one of the fastest growing segments of the plastics industry.

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