Silicones are yielding to brighter market prospects as the materials have a higher success rate in a highly diverse range of applications, in sectors from the automotive and solar to the medical, says Angelica Buan in this report.
Silicones: versatility promotes growth
Since the beginning of the 20th century, silicone, a modern class of synthetic material, has been utilised for various end-user applications, such as the silicone rubber soles of the boots worn by Neil Armstrong on his lunar expedition in 1969!
Today, silicones continue to drive demand for manufacturing products used across a wide range of enduser industries owing to their resistant to high and low temperatures and rubber-like quality.
The ability of silicones to withstand great stress and extreme temperatures makes it useful for the aviation & aerospace industries. The versatility and biocompatibility feature of silicones make it suitable for medical devices application. For other industries, such as the construction and renewable energy, silicones are energy-efficient and eco-friendly.
New emerging applications are expected to spur the production of silicones in countries where rapid urbanisation, expanding middle class population, and increasing consumption, and on that account, will further mobilise the market for silicones.
Wider market reach with expansions
According to Transparency Market Research, the silicones market is set to corner US$20.8 billion by 2022, registering a CAGR of 4.9% from 2016. Along with a burgeoning market, major players are also expanding.
Elkem Silicones, the world’s second largest silicone siloxane capacity producer, has expanded its local product offering to include upstream basic silicones such as cyclosiloxanes D4 and D5, polydimethylsiloxane oils (PDMS), silanol fluids, emulsions and sealants to meet the growing demands of the North American marketplace, according to a press statement.
A division of the Norway-headquartered Elkem ASA, the France-based silicones manufacturer, produces these materials in two facilities located in St Fons, France, and Xinghuo, China. Elkem Silicones operates a nearly 21,000 sq m manufacturing facility in South Carolina, US, where it produces a full range of downstream silicone solutions, including specialty elastomers, resins and fluids for diverse market applications.
German specialty chemicals firm Wacker Chemie recently inaugurated a new production line for silicone elastomers at its Zhangjiagang site in China. The lower double digit expansion encompasses a new line at the site, and is expected to improve the availability of high consistency silicone rubber (HCR) in the Asia-Pacific region. HCR grades are used in various industry sectors, such as the automotive, medical, electrical and electronics industry.
The firm says its Zhangjiagang plant houses cuttingedge equipment including world-class kneaders, mixing and screening equipment as well as a state-of-the-art waste treatment process. The new production line will enable shorter lead times, speed up market response, and improve overall customer experience, it added.
Wacker has been operating its own subsidiary in China for over 25 years, producing silicones and polymers in Zhangjiagang and Nanjing, Jiangsu province, which are the largest of their kind in the country. The company, which cites China as the world’s single largest market for silicone elastomers, also maintains seven sales offices, two technical centres and three production sites in China.
In May, another Germany-headquartered supplier Trelleborg Sealing Solutions (TSS) inaugurated its expanded manufacturing facility in Pernik, Bulgaria. The manufacturer of hydraulic seals, rotary shaft seals, o-rings, static seals, gaskets, oil seals and pneumatic seals, added over 1,000 sq m of production and warehouse space. The expansion allows this facility to further focus on its liquid silicone rubber (LSR) manufacturing and provide an enhanced service to its customers, it said.
The original facility in Pernik was opened in 2010 and construction of the extension began in 2018. The facility produces LSR solutions for automotive, pharmaceutical and sanitary equipment, as well as household electrical appliances and baby care, for example. In addition to moulding, the site also has its own capabilities in tool designing and making.
LSR: potential in medical applications
Liquid silicone rubber (LSR) is achieving a billion dollar growth in consumer goods, automotive, electrical & electronics and medical sectors, especially the medical grade LSR that decreases the risk of bacterial infections. Thus, it is used in skin medications to support functionality and absorption.
By 2024, the global LSR market is projected to grow to US$2.3 billion from US$1.7 billion in 2018, exhibiting a CAGR of 4.62% during the period, as per a Techsci Research Market forecast. Asia-Pacific, the second fastest growing region in the global LSR market, following major market countries, China and Japan, leads the market. Key players in the segment are also increasing their market position via capacity build-ups and mergers.
In this regard, advanced LSR solutions is an area of focus for TSS and the facility at Pernik works in close collaboration with the firm’s Swiss centre of for LSR in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.
In January, TSS’s parent company, Swedish engineered polymer solutions company Trelleborg also moved to acquire US-based contract manufacturer of high-tolerance silicone and thermoplastic components, Sil-Pro, to strengthen its positions in attractive market segments. Sil-Pro also offers assembly for medical devices.
Along the same vein, Netherlands-based materials technology company Parx Plastics has structured a separate entity to market antimicrobial technologies for silicone materials. It acquired a majority stake in Silarity, a Dutch entity founded in 2017, and in line with the acquisition, is tapped to manage, market and sell bio-derived technologies for silicone materials starting with antimicrobial technologies based on or derived from the Parx patents and know-how.
Parx says its technology makes use of biocompatible bodies own trace-element for improving the material’s mechanical/physical properties, thus making it more resistant to bacteria. It said that by preventing bacteria and biofilm adhesion and proliferation, an antimicrobial performance is obtained by 99.9% (as measured according to ISO 22196).
Preventing adhesion keeps the surface of the product cleaner and more hygienic. It can also prevent discolouration, bad odours and in the end, improve the lifespan of the overall product.
The new material is expected to be launched as soon as the antimicrobial technology for LSR moves towards the next trials in industrial scale application.
Catalyst for automotive safety and innovation
Global demand for vehicles is also highlighting the importance of vehicle safety, given that yearly, nearly 1.3 million people figure in fatal road traffic crashes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data. On the other hand, the impetus for vehicle safety is opening up opportunities for developing new designs, materials and technologies to improve crashworthiness of vehicles.
Silicones are used in the automotive industry to improve safety and reliability of vehicles, according to Visiongain, in its latest findings on the global automotive silicone market. It stated that silicones, which possess characteristics such as heat/cold resistance, defoaming properties, adhesiveness, weatherability, water repellency, and dielectric properties, also allow vehicles to be more lightweight and compact, and thus to be more eco-friendly.
The automotive silicone market is thus growing, and based on the latest audit by Grand View Research is expected to reach US$9.5 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.4% from 2017.
US-based silicone technology company Dow Performance Silicones is introducing its latest silicone optical bonding materials for automotive and consumer displays exposed to harsh environmental conditions. The company has added two new Dowsil VE series products: VE-2003 UV optical bonding material, a transparent, solventless, one-part UV-curable solution that is designed to bond a glass or plastic display cover and touch panel to the LCD or OLED display module; and VE-4001 UV electrode protective resin, a translucent, silicone resin designed for liquid-based bonding processes, which protects electrodes on the display module.
Their benefits include high transmittance, low haze, minimal yellowing and improved reliability, even when subjected to temperature extremes, high humidity and prolonged UV exposure.
According to Dow Performance Silicones, interactive displays in connected vehicles play an increasingly vital role in safety, navigation and entertainment; and exceptional user experience. Moreover, these displays must sustain their performance over the vehicle lifespan, under the demanding conditions of automotive interiors.
Using a silicone-based solution for both electrode protection and optical bonding optimises reliability of display modules, whose mechanically sensitive electrodes can be affected by moisture, heat, impact, and especially UV light. It also avoids incompatibility issues arising from the combination of silicone optical bonding with organic electrode protective resin (EPR). This can lead to failure in solar testing and cause haze, yellowing and softening of the silicone OCR under high temperatures (up to 105°C) and UV levels in automotive interiors.
Spurring renewable energy technology
Decreasing dependence on non-renewable resources for energy is spurring the global renewable energy market, which is projected by Allied Market Research to reach US$1.5 trillion by 2025.
Consequently, the brisk renewable energy business is spurring demand for silicone encapsulants, owing to their superior temperature and moisture resistance, and UV stability.
Benchmarking silicone encapsulant’s market worth, Markets and Markets estimated it to cross US$1.6 billion by 2022 from US$1.3 billion in 2017, reaching a CAGR of 5.5% over the forecast period.
Tapping into the promising renewable energy application, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions has recently added a new brand to its flagship Tedlar and Solamet product lines known as Fortasun solar silicones.
Used in PV applications, the new silicone-based product line features encapsulants, which protect solar components against corrosion and delamination, prolonging the life of a module while ensuring better power output and improved performance results in terms of increased power generation; sealants, adhesives, potting agents, and electrically conductive adhesives.
DuPont claims that Fortasun provides the benefits of electrical insulation; delamination and corrosion protection; has lasting UV stability, high thermal conductivity and strong adhesive bonds that help reduce failures due to moisture.
Thus, its adoption increases durability, stability, productivity and overall performance of solar panels and helps lower cost per kilowatt-hour and lower long-term cost of ownership.