Did you know that polytetrafluoroethylene was an accidental invention? After college, Roy J. Plunkett was hired by DuPont to research new refrigerants. Older refrigerants were poisoning food-industry workers and even people in their homes.
In an experiment, Plunkett produced 100 pounds of tetrafluoroethylene gas (TFE). Then he stored it at dry-ice temperatures in small cylinders.
But when Plunkett and his assistant went to chlorinate the tetrafluoroethylene gas, it had turned into a white powder! He soon discovered that this powder was both chemically inert and heat resistant.
And here, Teflon was born! Since that day, this new polymer has gone on to grace products and tools all over the world.
Do you want to know where you’ll find polytetrafluoroethylene today? Do you want to know more about the way that it works? Keep scrolling!
What Is Polytetrafluoroethylene?
Soon after Plunkett’s discovery, DuPont patented the invention and called it Teflon.
Just 10 years later, DuPont was manufacturing over 20 million pounds of Teflon every year!
Teflon is one of the well-known brand names for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). It’s just like the way that Kleenex is one of the famous brand names for tissues.
A synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene, polytetrafluoroethylene has numerous applications. It is made using fluorine and carbon atoms.
What Are the Properties of Polytetrafluoroethylene?
In use since the 1940s, polytetrafluoroethylene has many exciting properties. In its first form, polytetrafluoroethylene is a touch, waxy, synthetic resin. It’s powerful and is also non-flammable.
It also has exceptional chemical resistance. And PTFE is exceptionally resistant to both low and high temperatures.
Some of the other properties attributed to polytetrafluoroethylene are:
- Resistance to UV light, sunlight, and weathering
- Low coefficient of friction
- Low dissipation factor
- Powerful anti-adhesion properties
- Very flexible
- Efficient fatigue resistance under low stress
- Low water absorption
- Variety of grades available (food, medical, and high-purity)
Its chemical structure is similar to that of polyethylene (PE). But the two are used in entirely different ways.
Plus, in polytetrafluoroethylene, the fluorine replaces all the hydrogen atoms.
What Does the Fluorine Do?
The fluorine atoms are a bit larger. They form a continuous, uniform sheath around the carbon-carbon-bonds.
This adds to the stability and chemical resistance of the molecule. This uniform sheath of fluorine also provides electrical inertness to the molecule.
The fluorine content has 95% crystallinity.
As a result of Plunkett’s discovery, the development of other fluoropolymers accelerated.
What Are Some Other Benefits?
PTFE has some fantastic benefits and properties. It’s also one of the most chemically-resistant polymers.
Polytetrafluoroethylene’s density is in the range of 2.1-2.3 g/cm3. It has a melt viscosity in the range of 1-10 GPa per second.
One downfall of the mechanical properties of PTFE is that it is typically inferior to the process of engineering plastics at room temperature. But to overcome this shortage, the strategy of compounding with fillers was developed.
The electrical properties of polytetrafluoroethylene are excellent. It has a low dielectric constant because of the macromolecules’ highly symmetrical structure. It also has high insulation resistance.
All PTFE materials can withstand continual use below 260 degrees Celcius.
Does PTFE Have Any Limitations?
Like most polymers, PTFE does have some limitations, like:
- Low radiation resistance
- Difficulties of joining
- Prone to toxic fumes
- Sensitivity to abrasion
- Dimension variation around the glass transition temperature
These limitations only occur if the polytetrafluoroethylene gets pushed beyond its recommended temperatures.
Where Can You Find Polytetrafluoroethylene?
This thermoplastic is used for very specific applications. It’s incorporated into many products for use. It improves those products with its many different qualities, such as:
- Resistance to low temperature
- Resistance to high heat
- Chemical inertness
- Non-sticking and self-lubricating properties
- High purity
High purity grades are typically used in pharmaceutical, semiconductor, and other sectors.
PTFE is used in a myriad of industries. It can be seen in electrical, chemical, construction, beauty, automotive, and architectural industries.
Electrical and Engineering Industry
In the electrical industry, PTFE can be found in insulation. It’s also found in semiconductor parts and flexible printed circuit boards.
In the engineering industry, you’ll find polytetrafluoroethylene in bearing and non-stick surfaces. It’s also found in coatings for fittings, pipes, valves, and other pump parts, and in seats and plugs.
In the chemical industry, polytetrafluoroethylene is used throughout different pumps. It’s also found in tanks, reaction vessels, autoclaves, impellers, containers, and heat exchangers.
Polytetrafluoroethylene plays a significant role in the automotive industry. It’s found in gaskets, valve stem seals, linings for fuel hoses, shaft seals, power steering, o-rings, transmission, and much more.
Polytetrafluoroethylene is found throughout the medical sector. It’s found in ligament replacements, heart patches, cardiovascular grafts, and much more.
Some Surprising Products Where You’ll Find Teflon Polytetrafluoroethylene
It’s easy to understand how useful Teflon polytetrafluoroethylene is. But it’s even more impressive when you think about the ways in which it’s used throughout products you see every day.
Teflon polytetrafluoroethylene can be found in waterproof clothing and furniture. It’s also found in non-stick pots and pans, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and self-cleaning ovens!
Plus, you can find this multi-use polymer in many other items, such as:
- Tents and camping equipment
- Fast food containers
- Carpet solutions
- Condiment containers
- Hair straighteners
Polytetrafluoroethylene Has Many Uses
When it comes to polytetrafluoroethylene, there is a multitude of uses. It’s processed in several different ways and is used in many forms.
The more you think and learn about it, the more you’ll realize how much of an impact it has on our everyday lives, especially when it comes to food.
It’s the reason why your hot food never sticks to the inside of your to-go containers!
Nowadays, you can use Teflon in both single and multi-coat systems, and a variety of colors, coatings, and processes.