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We have been using plasticisers to make things soft and bendable for thousands of years. Water has been used to soften clay since the early evolution of man and oils are known to have been used centuries ago to plasticise pitch for waterproofing boats.
Modern plasticisers are not different. They are substances which when combined with PVC and other polymers create a whole new world of physical properties for high performing applications and uses that bring a myriad of benefits to everyday life. Today, over 90 percent of all plasticisers consumed in Europe are employed in flexible PVC applications, largely for the construction, automotive and wire & cable sectors.
Globally, approximately six million tonnes of plasticisers are consumed every year, of which European consumption accounts for approximately 1 million tonnes. In relation to phthalates, the European plasticiser market has gradually shifted towards high molecular weight phthalates (high phthalates), which today represent just over 80 percent of all plasticisers consumed in Europe.
Plasticisers are colourless and odorless liquids that cannot be simply treated as additives like pigments or fillers. They are, in fact, major functional additives that determine and improve the physical properties of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Typically, these plasticisers are esters that have low vapour pressure and good heat stability. Most of them are chemically inert. There have been over 10,000 esters suggested, with over 300 different commercial launches, of which 50 to 100 are in commercial use. They can be divided in two wide application categories, based on their performance features:
• General purpose plasticisers are suited to a very wide range of applications and processing techniques where they bring an optimised balance between cost, versatility and performance.
• Specialty plasticisers impart one or more special properties that cannot be obtained by the use of a general purpose plasticiser alone. They are suited to a narrow range of applications and are produced in smaller quantities than general purpose plasticisers.