Summary: With growing awareness of the potential harm that persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals such as certain PFAS can cause, increasing restrictions on their use and the hunt for alternatives - either drop in replacements or changes to processes - is likely to accelerate. We look at three key use cases for PFAS: paints, pesticides and 'puters (semiconductors).
Why this is important: Upcoming legislation limiting the production of some or all PFAS could necessitate changes - sometimes radical changes - to business models.
The big theme: Some intermediates that have been historically central to proving desired physical properties have been found to be harmful if allowed to accumulate in the environment. Finding ways of removing them from the environment or indeed finding alternatives require innovation and behavioural change. PFAS are one example. The estimated global market for PFAS is $28 billion - a fraction of the market size for all chemicals at $4.7 trillion. Of course that doesn't reflect the true value of the market given that PFAS are an intermediate that have been important conveyors of physical properties to many finished products and the processes to make those products. However, just the direct health care costs alone to address the impacts of bioaccumulation of PFAS could be more than $90 billion per annum in the European Economic Area (EEA) alone.
What's all the fuss about PFAS?
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or PFAS are a group of human-made compounds (they do not occur naturally) that contain carbon-fluorine bonds, which is one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. They are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down over time. There are more than 10,000 chemicals classified as PFAS and they have been used commercially for more than 80 years. They are very effective at repelling water and oils, are good surfactants (wetting agents) as well as being good insulators. As a result they have been used extensively in food packaging, plastic containers, non-stick pans, fabrics, electronics, fire-fighting foams, detergents and cosmetics amongst others.
You will also hear about PFOS (perfluorooctanesulphonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) - they are just types of PFAS. Some PFAS can occur as microplastics such as PVF (polyvinyl flouride) and PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene).
ChemSec estimate that the global market for PFAS is $28 billion - a fraction of the market size for all chemicals at $4.7 trillion. Of course that doesn't reflect the true value of the market given that PFAS are an intermediate that have been important conveyors of physical properties to other finished products such as those mentioned above.