Understanding the market for PTFE alternatives
To study substances that can replace PTFE, a per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substance, in consumer goods products without sacrificing cost and product quality.
We applied non-toxic alternatives to our client’s product and tested for efficacy to solve their desire of manufacturing a more sustainable version.
Our work enabled our client to better understand the market for PTFE alternatives and the cost of chemical replacement.
Certain chemicals are essential to human health while others are harmful to the body. Unfortunately, legislation has often failed to limit the use of harmful chemicals until decades after studying their negative impact. Many times, new chemicals emerge to replace the old, following the same pattern of launching without adequate research into the consequences of long-term exposure to humans and the environment.
What are forever chemicals?
Recently, advocates and policymakers have focused on the safety of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” Chemicals in this category have been used since the 1950s in a variety of consumer, industrial, and commercial products. They have unique characteristics, including resistance to water, grease, oil, and flame, making them attractive compounds in items like water-repellent clothing, non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpet, cleaners, and more. Traces of PFAS are also found in food packaging and personal care products such as shampoo, nail polish, makeup, and dental floss.
These chemicals’ unique properties — and their “forever” reputation — are due to a fluorine-carbon bond, one of the strongest atomic bonds, resulting in a slow chemical degradation that allows them to persist in the environment for thousands of years.
PFAS in the environment and its health effects for humans
The environmental persistence has led to an overwhelming PFAS exposure in nature, including drinking water, causing negative health effects. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified PFAS as a thyroid disruptor, meaning it can affect fertility, cardiovascular health, metabolism, and fetal neurodevelopment. Since PFAS use emerged in the 1950s, nearly every American has been exposed. NIH studies have found that 97% of Americans have traces of PFAS in their blood.
Many companies have explored altering the chemical composition of commonly used PFAS substances to create similar chemicals that offer the same appealing qualities (water, grease, and oil resistance) for their products. However, little evidence points to a decrease in the negative health effects or a decrease in environmental persistence for PFAS derivatives. A new non-fluoroalkyl substance is needed.
Will PFAS be banned?
Accordingly, a handful of countries and regions are fostering conversations around banning thousands of PFAS variants, such as the European Union, the U.S. and Canada. These potential bans of PFAS could severely affect the businesses of many consumer goods producers, as well as influence other nations to enforce similar bans. Among the PFAS variants is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – a popular inorganic material used in a wide range of applications, including seals, wire insulation, surface coatings, and chemical processed equipment.
RTI Innovation Advisors Providing Solutions to Replace PTFE Substances
RTI Innovation Advisors have been solving complex innovation challenges for over 50 years. Our experts understand the unique relationship between a client’s needs, customer response, legislation, and science. One area of expertise for the organization has been reformulating products to eliminate PFAS variants.
In this engagement, a confidential commercial client sought the expertise of the RTI Innovation Advisors to landscape the market for a potential PTFE replacement that would provide a more sustainable alternative and preempt the impact of a potential PFAS ban in relevant markets.
In phase one, the team performed a comprehensive technology landscape to identify potential technologies and then performed both secondary and primary research, as well as expert interviews on those alternatives that were determined to be the best fit for the client across a range of criteria. We looked at over 150 possible technologies and narrowed it down to seven recommended potential chemistries and suppliers.
In phase two, RTI Innovation Advisors partnered with RTI’s exposure scientists to test the recommended technologies on our client’s product. We measured the product’s efficacy at varying levels of active ingredient. We also performed further primary research to uncover which of these more sustainable PFAS alternatives would be cost effective, commercially ready, and easily integrated into our client’s current manufacturing processes.
Our recommendations and final deliverables enabled our client to consider the best PTFE-free options that would not sacrifice product quality, nor fail to meet consumer expectations. This study is a testimony to the RTI Innovation Advisors’ commitment to leveraging science with innovation to improve the human condition.