Webinar “The EU Green Deal in need of Fluoropolymers”
“The EU Green Deal in need of fluoropolymers“ 20 January webinar, organised by the EU Focus Group, tackled the importance of fluoropolymers in achieving the European Green Deal targets while being potentially threatened by a potential REACH restriction. Fluoropolymers are at the forefront of achieving the targets of the green deal. Many sectors driving the decarbonisation path, including telecommunications, semiconductors, construction & insulation, medical, manufacturing and defence, food supply, energy and mobility are dependent on these products.
The webinar gathered about 500 participants from REACH Competent authorities, EU Institutions, national governments, industry and numerous associations.
23 JANUARY 2023 I 14:00 – 15:30 CET
Opening Speech by: Ms. Anja Weisgerber (Member of the German Parliament, spokesperson of the CSU on environmental matters, and former member of the European Parliament) on the importance of the chemical industry for achieving national and international green deal objectives.
Consideration & Moderation by Mr. Pascal Michaux, Managing Partner at EU Focus Group
- Ms. Amber Wellmann, Chemours: how fluoropolymers advance the EU green deal and economy
- Mr. Razvan Nicolescu, Member of the Board of the European Institute for Innovation & Technology, former Energy Minister of Romania: Hydrogen & Fluoropolymers and the decarbonization of the EU economy
- Mr. Michael Banghard, Karl Storz Company, Medical Devices and the lifesaving relevance of fluoropolymers
- Mr. Vazil Hudak, Chairman of IPM Avanea & former Slovak Minister of Economy and Vice-President of the European Investment Bank
Pascal Michaux, Managing Partner of the EU Focus Group outlined the general context of the Restriction Proposal and the particularity of the subgroup of fluoropolymers within the wider family of around 4800-6000 PFAS. He underlined that since the fluoropolymers meet the OECD criteria for polymers of low concern, the authorities need to clearly differentiate between fluoropolymers and other groups of PFAS. They should be entirely exempted as they do not represent a risk to health and/or the environment but help the society to meet the green deal objectives.
He noted that fluoropolymers are essential in photovoltaic and solar thermal installations. Moreover, they represent a critical component in the production of semiconductors, water electrolysers, wind turbines, fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries, as well as in achieving energy and emission standards, waste reduction etc. As such, fluoropolymers are substances of necessity rather than choice. Without fluoropolymers these key technologies cannot be produced and potential alternatives for substitution are not on the horizon. Furthermore, key regulatory initiatives such as the green Deal, Chips Act, EU Hydrogen strategy would be unattainable and Europe’s dependence on third countries would increase.
Ms. Anja Weisgerber, CDU/CSU spokesperson on environment and former member of the EU Parliament, highlighted the tension between social and economic benefits and the risk of environmental damage during manufacturing and use of PFAS. In her view, fluoropolymers are a prerequisite for the implementation of modern technologies, making them indispensable for society. At the same time, referring to the legacy compounds of PFOA and PFOS, which are no longer used in Europe for manufacturing of fluoropolymers, among others, she stressed the importance of sustainable manufacturing and the need to control any emissions, where possible. She welcomed the transition by the industry to safer substances, needed for the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, and increased efforts to reduce emissions through abatement technologies.
Recalling CDU/CSU statements made at the time when the EU Green Deal has been drafted, she reminded the audience that declaring a zero-pollutant strategy as a goal while at the same time reducing the access to substances needed for this transition will result in failure. Thus, consistency across EU Legislations such as REACH and CLP and key objectives such as the Green Deal are needed and problems in waste policy for the re-use of secondary raw materials all the way to hindering the transformation towards a climate-neutral economy are on the horizon.
To avoid these problems, close contact in between companies and associations is needed and needs to be expanded, allowing information flow for the benefit of the environment and to secure Europe as an innovative location for the chemical industry.
Mr. Vazil Hudak, Chairman of IPM Avanea & former Slovak Minister of Economy and Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, offered his pragmatic point of view on the European Competitiveness and economic development in the context of the REACH restriction proposal. Referring also to the remarks made by EU Commission President Ms Ursula van der Leyen, in Davos, making the EU home of clean tech and industrial innovation on the road to net zero is a clear opportunity for economic growth.
While major institutions are shifting to net zero and green economy, it is crucial that the entire value chain becomes green, cradle to cradle. As an example, the production of modern batteries needed for the automotive sector and also a modern renewable energy system is dependent on fluoropolymers and companies such as InoBat, confirmed that batteries depend on fluoropolymers.
A potential restriction of fluoropolymers would not just risk our path to net zero, but also would risk recently announced and future plans of batteries producers to manufacture in the EU. Similarly, semiconductor production would be also at risk due to the unique performance of fluoropolymers. As such, any potential restriction must assess not just the risk to human health and the environment but also implied risks to our economy. This process must be accompanied by a broader societal discussion as further education is needed.
Ms. Amber Wellman, Director of Sustainability, Advanced Performance Materials at Chemours refined the audience’s understanding on the chemical profile of fluoropolymers and how they can be produced with minimal risks to the environment.
Recalling that chemistry creates a better world and advances modern applications, it must go hand in hand with sustainability to address potential environmental effects by the production of thereof. Chemours considers their Corporate Responsibility Commitment (CRC) to be a business imperative, an extension of their growth strategy and a reflection of their values. From their 99% fluorinated organic compound emission reduction target, Chemours has already achieved 40% reduction the 2018 global baseline. Concerns about emissions in manufacturing can therefore be addressed with strict emissions standards achieved by abatement and thermal destruction technologies and Chemours is committed to eliminate emissions to the extent possible, with newly developed sampling and analytical methods that help to advance this process further.
The C-F bond seen in fluoropolymers is the strongest bond in organic chemistry. This bond makes them unique as they are biologically stable and chemically inert in the presence of virtually any chemical or mechanical stress, are insoluble in water, non-bioavailable, non-bioaccumulative and non-toxic, non-wetting, non-stick, and highly resistant to temperature, fire, and weather. Articles made with fluoropolymers are virtually maintenance free and offer excellent electrical properties and they meet the OECD criteria for Polymers of Low Concern.
Fluoropolymers provide durability across temperature and pressure extremes with low permeability and a resistance to corrosive chemicals. They don’t leach and maintain their mechanical Integrity even under the harshest conditions like in the manufacture of semiconductors. Their excellent electrical properties contribute to the ultra-low loss needed for high-speed data transmissions. Their conductivity properties are at the heart of enabling ion exchange membranes to produce green hydrogen. In cars, they play an important role in cutting carbon emissions while also improving fuel economy and performance and enable future mobility through their roles for batteries and fuel cells. After use, fluoropolymers can be destroyed thermally, should recycling be not possible due to their overall low percentage volume in materials used.
As such, the EU Green Deal depends on the technical functions only fluoropolymers can provide. Without Fluoropolymers there is no green deal. An exemption of fluoropolymers, from the REACH restriction, is therefore needed as targeted derogations would not be manageable and enforceable due to the overall high number of applications. Conditions on manufacturing would be the recommended regulatory management option.
Mr. Razvan Nicolescu, Member of the Board of the European Institute for Innovation & Technology, former Energy Minister of Romania, offered his views on how hydrogen & Fluoropolymers not just contribute to the decarbonization of the EU economy but are also of strategic relevance.
Climate change is the overarching challenge of our generation and needs to be addressed fast.
Fluoropolymers are the key to address this challenge. Consistency across EU legislations is needed.
In the coming years the hydrogen economy is set to drastically expand and investments to date are around 25 Bn Euro. At the same time local capacity to produce hydrogen and fuels cells to utilize them, needs to expand. The recently announced European Green Hydrogen Acceleration centre brought forward by EIT and the European Battery Alliance are at the forefront to fulfil Europe’s ambitions on green energy solutions. Soon, these efforts will also expand to an alliance to push PV production in the EU, while reducing our dependence on external markets. Hydrogen is furthermore of strategic importance for the increased usages as a fuel in industrial furnace, thus decreased dependence on fossil fuels in applications where higher temperatures are needed.
Mr. Michael Banghard, Karl Storz Company, concluding with a concrete example on how fluoropolymers are used in medical devices and their lifesaving relevance. Mr Banghard outlined how fluoropolymers are needed for high end medical devices such as endoscopy to provide a minimal invasive surgery to patients.
Fluoropolymers such as PTFE are used to insulate medical devices and protect them also from corrosion. Due to their inert status and lack of bioavailability, provided by their high grade, they are excellent in providing the needed functions. The increased durability leads to longer lasting instruments, reducing the amount of clinical waste. Their high melting point allows save sterilisation of the equipment, without affecting the device itself.
Due to the lack of alternatives, a potential restriction of PTFE would drastically reduce the availability of medical devices, resulting in more invasive, thus dangerous, forms of operations. At the same time the medical grade required by the medical device regulation as well as ISO standards such as “Biological evaluation of medical devices – ISO 10993” would no longer be met.
Even if a potential restriction would not affect the medical sector, a restriction would still reduce the overall availability and as such the medical sector may no longer be able to procure fluoropolymers on the market, due to the comparable smaller size of the industry.