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Who said polyvinyl chloride can’t adapt to change? Ledetta Asfa-Wossen reports on the first two days of PVC 2014 in Brighton, UK.
In the PVC industry, reputation is everything. Especially when starting from zero. But at PVC 2014, there was plenty of proof that the sector is working to improve the material’s green credentials. And, with six million tonnes of PVC produced per year, generating €80bln in Europe alone – can any government really afford to get by without it?
Brigitte Dero of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers began with an up-tempo address on EU sustainability targets. She said, ‘There is plenty to shout about, but the PVC sector needs to be less shy about it.’ Delivering recycling figures like gospel, Dero told the audience that in 2013, 444,468t of PVC had been recycled, a significant increase from 362,076t in 2012.
Regarding additives, Dero commended the efforts of Vinyl Plus Europe, citing some encouraging developments. ‘Vinyl Plus has achieved 96% compliance with the PVC Resin Industry Charters for emissions during the production phase. We are looking at full lead replacement to classified plasticisers by the end of 2015 and new, robust criteria for the sustainable use of additives.’ But the greatest challenge remains, admitted Dero – a 20% decrease in energy consumption for 2020. Put simply, ‘The industry has to get better at doing more with less’.
Jonathon Porritt of Forum for the Future said the 20% decrease would only scratch the surface. ‘We are almost entirely dependent on hydrocarbon feedstock. The industry must soon be 100% dependent on bio-based and mineral-based feedstocks. The PVC industry’s destination should be the same as every other industry in the world – total decarbonisation.’ Porritt also added that PVC companies had to fully recognise Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conclusions.
Chris Howick of Ineos ChlorVinyls, UK, discussed REACH regulations, and welcomed a new pan-industry report for PVC manufactured in Europe to assist companies dealing with European vinyl manufacturers. But he added that there were still many scare stories regarding endocrine disruptive chemicals, BPA and phthalates, and that data must be presented fairly and accurately.
In support of shale gas
Henry Warren of market information service IHS, UK, was the first to highlight the impact of shale gas on PVC production. ‘Gas has more than rocked the boat, it has turned the boat upside down.’ Warren highlighted the cumulative cost of ethylene to produce PVC and noted that PVC producers rule the seas in terms of dollars spent per metric tonne. Roger Mottram of Ineos ChlorVinyls, USA, added that shale gas could also be a good stepping stone to reducing CO2 emissions. ‘I would like to see bio-feedstocks, but we still need innovation, cost reduction and infrastructure in the area. There’s 50 years’ worth of shale gas in the UK. By then, hopefully all the biofuels will have been developed.’
However, Mottram warned that the sector should not be complacent and that it still had its public image to work on. Citing PVC-free labels as a concern, he hoped that these would soon be replaced by VinylPlus labels, and listed less state intervention, shale gas support and lower regulation costs as strategic priorities.
Market outlook: India
The afternoon seminars took a look at specific market trends by country. Shreekant Diwan of Reliance Industries Ltd surveyed India’s PVC market, illustrating how far along it had moved since the first PVC plant opened in Bombay in 1961. Diwan recalled three growing markets – organised retail, telecommunications and automotive, and said that PVC had a large role to play in all three. ‘India is no longer here to meet the demand in PVC. We’re here to create it. The global consumption of PVC is estimated at 54.2 million metric tonnes (MMT) by 2023. Come 2025, India’s share will be about 8%.’
Diwan examined numerous market opportunities for exports of PVC in the country, namely waterproofing, which is set to double, and pipes, which now account for 69% of the country’s PVC consumption. Water management is a high demand area in India in terms of sewage and sanitation, and Borewell casing and column pipes are needed for irrigation. Furthermore, ageing infrastructure and leaking structures mean that many of the country’s old pipes will need replacing or fixing.
Diwan added that, while there has been uptake of alternative materials such as O-PVC and Foamcore to compete with traditional PVC, strict quality specifications and high resin prices have slowed innovation in reprocessed materials. Another potential growth area is door fabrication, but at present, aluminium-based profiles are still the economical option.
Yoshiake Asada of Mitsui & Co in Japan presented the outlook in China. Asada stated that with Africa’s PVC demand growing and China competing with the USA on quality and pricing, there was much to keep the country on its toes. However, China’s efforts to combat pollution and CO2 emissions were less detailed. One delegate asked what the country’s plans were to improve air pollution and reduce mercury waste related to intensive carbide processing, but Asada said that China’s issue of low air quality was more a result of coal-fired power plants in the area.
Looking at the USA, Richard Krock of The Vinyl Institute in the USA highlighted some more tangible recycling efforts related to vinyl flooring. He explained that every vinyl flooring company in the USA now has a take-back system and high recycle rate, and that the use of mercury cell technology is now very rare. But as Dero suggested, if the PVC industry doesn’t promote its efforts towards innovation or sustainability, no one else will.
A rigid PVC board that uses a recycled plasticiser could provide a weather resistant alternative to timber boards used in scaffolding. According to Steve Weston of COSTdown Plastics Recycling, UK, the recyclable boards easily lock together, have high flexural stiffness and can hold 680kg.
A detector that will study the properties of neutrinos is on course to be the largest PVC structure in the world. The NOvA project led by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, USA, is made of 28 PVC blocks. The device will weigh 14,000t. The construction will be complete in summer 2014.
Did you know?
Paste PVC accounts for a 6% share of the global PVC market. The division has not fully recovered since its decline in 2008, but rapid growth in western Europe is repairing the industry. The largest paste PVC market is artificial leather, led by China, where carbide processing is threatening to dominate suspension PVC. The top five applications for paste PVC are artificial leather, flooring, roofing membranes, car interiors, and domestic and surgical gloves.
38.5MMT – global PVC demand in 2013
54.2MMT – global PVC demand projected for 2023
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