Polycarbonate Properties, Production, Price, Market and Uses

Polycarbonate is a transparent thermoplastic with stable dimensions which allow excellent kind of impact resistance. High-performance properties of this plastic polymer make it a leading plastic material for a number of applications.

 

 

Construction Polycarbonate Plastics


What is Polycarbonate (PC)?

 

They are a group of natural transparent amorphous kind of thermoplastic containing carbonate in their chemical structure.

These materials allow ease of processing as can be smoothly molded or thermoformed which make them applicable to the number of uses.

PC plastic materials are used to produce a number of products that demand high impact resistance and transparency (e.g. bullet proof glasses). It is used in a variety of daily need products like eyewear, automotive parts, medical devices, CDs & DVDs etc.

Products made from these resins contain bisphenol A (BPA). They have a unique resin identification code (RIC) and are identified as “other”, 7 on the list.


History

It was first invented by Dr. Hermann Schnell of Bayer in 1953, and just a few days before chemist Dr. Daniel Fox of Germany also invented the same material while developing new wire insulation material.

PC was first introduced commercially by Bayer (AG of Germany) in 1958 and later by General Electric Company of The United States.


Properties of Polycarbonate

It is an amorphous kind of material which does not possess the ordered form of a characteristic of crystalline solids. They are copolymers composed of different monomers exhibiting following properties:

  • High impact resistance towards abrasion, chemicals & heat.
  • UV filtration.
  • Glare reduction.
  • Usually, has a coating for scratch resistance.
  • The minimum amount of degradation between repetitive & cooling points.

Structure

  • They inhibit the name polycarbonate as they are polymers including carbonate which is a combination of useful features like temperature & impact resistance, optical properties etc.
  • This molecule is composed of Bisphenol A and carbonate group. Bisphenol A contains two aromatic rings responsible for stiffness its inability to crystallize.
  • The amorphous structure provides particular kind of transparency. The high glass temperature is due to minimal molar rotation among the bonds.

Physical properties

  • Density – 1.20-1.22 g/cm3
  • Flammability – V0-V2
  • UV Resistance – 1-380nm
  • Water absorption – 0.16-0.35%

Mechanical properties

  • Tensile strength – 55-75 Mpa & Impact strength – 600-850j/m
  • Elongation at break – 80-150%
  • Coefficient of friction – 0.31
  • Hardness – Rockwell M70

Thermal Properties

  • Glass transition temperature – 147 °C (297 °F)
  • Thermal conductivity (k) at 23 °C – 0.19–0.22 W/(m·K)
  • Linear thermal expansion coefficient – 65–70 × 10−6/K
  • Specific heat capacity – 1.2–1.3 kJ/(kg·K)

Polycarbonate Production

Production Process

PC is produced by a common method of polymerization between bisphenol A (liquid derived from benzene & phosgene). During this process, toxic gases carbon monoxide and chlorine are emitted.

The resultant product is the polymer material (long and combine with multiple units) made up of repeating units containing aromatic (benzene) rings connected by ester groups.

Global Production Capacity of Polycarbonate

The global production capacity of these resins stood 5100 Kt/annum for the year 2016. It is expected that the production capacity of material would increase globally due to increasing demand from different sectors in the forecasted period.

Asian-Pacific regions have the highest amount of contribution in the production of these polymers due to their lightweight, durability & innovative potential in plastics market.

These regions have the highest production as they have a number of growing opportunities for its usage in end – segment industries including food & beverages, construction & automotive.

China has become the largest producer of resins among all other Asian-pacific regions though the growth rate is slow but holds maximum share in production globally.

China has its maximum usage of material in construction & automotive sector with continuous growth opportunities. It is further followed by The United States of America (Primarily North America). It is due to increased income & expenditure on electronics & automobiles which accelerate the production of the plastic polymer being widely used in this sector.

Other countries like Germany, Japan, Thailand and South Africa etc also share their contribution globally in the production of the plastic polymer due to increasing technologies, government support & more demand from end-segment (packaging, electronics, medical etc.)

Leading Manufacturers of Polycarbonate

Manufacturer Polycarbonate Production Capacity

The production capacity of different leading players in global market varies from each other according to their plants installed capacity, availability of raw material, market demand and many other reasons.

Covestro holds the maximum share in the production of these resin materials in the year 2016 with the worth of 1480 Kt/a. It is further followed by Sabic with the production capacity of 1428 Kt/a.

Other prominent market players production capacities for 2016 were, Mitsubishi (561 Kt/a), Teijin (408Kt/a), LG Chem (255Kt/a), Trinseo (204 Kt/a), Formosa Chemicals & Fiber (200 Kt/a), Samsung with (150 Kt/a).

Remaining producers add up to 411 Kt/a to the global production.


Polycarbonate Trading Price

 


Polycarbonate Market

Polycarbonate Sales in European Countries (2016)

Polycarbonate Sales in Europe

Europe is one of the prominent markets for selling this plastic material globally. Among all European countries, Spain held the largest share in the year 2016 which was selling 327612 thousand kgs of PC.

Spain was followed by Germany with selling up to 277646 thousand kgs of material in 2016.

Other countries include Italy with (42763 ), The United Kingdom with (4285 ), Denmark with (68 ) and Finland with (23) thousand kilograms in the year 2016.

Polycarbonate Plates, Sheets, Film, Foil and Strip Sales in Europe (2016)

Polycarbonate Plate & Sheet Sales

Italy held the largest share among all other European countries in selling PC (plates, sheets, films, foil, and strip) which is followed by Italy and Spain. The quantities of plates and sheets sold by Italy was 39,101 thousand kg.

Other two countries selling this grade of PC material are Finland & Denmark.

Polycarbonate Market Forecast

Global Polycarbonate Market Forecast

The global market was valued at US$ 13 bn in 2016 and is projected to reach US$ 17 bn 2020, market demand exceeded 5.9 thousand tons in 2020.

This resin has its applications in the number of industries such as construction, packaging, medical devices and automotive etc.

Market Drivers- Factors expected to drive the global market demand include:

  • Growing usage in end segments consumer markets like electrical & electronics, automotive, construction, and many others.
  • As it is a recyclable form of the polymer is used widely as a substitute for different thermoplastics like it is being used as a substitute for PVC in medical devices.

Market Restraints- Factors that hamper the future growth in market demand are:

  • Large capital requirements.
  • Availability of substitutes.
  • Strict environment regulations.

 Market Opportunity- There are several new market opportunities for this resin owing to its properties and functionality. These opportunities include:

  • Nowadays they can be blended with other polymers like ABS or polyesters and are being used for fabrication processes.
  • Niche uses in sectors such as safety equipment & industrial machinery are forecasted to increase future market demand.

Application Insights- Prominent industries having the maximum share in global applications market for this material are electrical & electronics, the automotive market & construction sector.

Electrical & Electronics Sector

They remain the dominant market in the global demand. In the electronics sector, PC is being used for a number of applications which include power housing, connectors, household appliances & battery boxes.

Their optical clarity also extends their usage to headlamps, face shield, laminates & windshields etc.

Automotive Sector

Electrical & electronics sector is followed by the automotive sector in consumption of these polymers. They are used for the production of exterior and interior components of automotive.

The highest demand is for passenger vehicles especially in the Asian market (China, India & Thailand).

Construction Sector

Construction sectors are also using this resin material as an alternative or substitute for different polymers as they are more environments friendly & recyclable.

Increase investments in public mainly for metro rail projects & Greenfield airport is rising the demand for polymers in the market.

Regional Insights

Asia-Pacific is the largest consumer of the polymer having more than 61 % share in market demand. These regions have a higher consumption of the material due to the presence of well-established & continuously growing end- segment industries (electronics, automotive etc).

China is the largest consumer among other Asian regions due to growing opportunities in construction & automotive sector.

Competitive Insights

Key players in the global market include SABIC Innovative Plastics (U.S.), Bayer Material Science AG (Germany), Teijin Ltd. (Japan), Mitsubishi Engineering-Plastics Corporation (Japan), and Chi Mei Corporation (China).

These leading companies are now focusing on developing new products from these resins and accelerate the market growth rate.


Global Trade of Polycarbonate

Trade Balance

Trade Balance of Polycarbonate

Global trade balance of polycarbonate is negative (export-import) and constant in last few years. The export of the material in 2016 was worth US$ 8.43bn while the import was US$ 10.25bn.

The export and import of the material have decreased in 2016 with respect to last few years.

Top 10 Exporters of Polycarbonate

Countries Exporting Polycarbonate

South Korea is the largest exporter of polycarbonate globally in 2016. It exported material worth of US$ 1.367bn. The second largest exporter was the United States which exported resin worth of US$ 1.07bn.

As seen most of the top 10 exporters of polycarbonate in 2016 were the Asian countries.

Top 10 Importers of Polycarbonate

Countries Importing Polycarbonate

China is the largest importer of polycarbonate resin globally in 2016. It imported the material worth of US$ 3.5bn followed by Mexico which imported resin worth of US$ 615.7mn. The polycarbonate market in China is driven by growing numbers of companies which are involved in the manufacturing of electrical and electronic products to cater global demand.

The other top importing countries are Hong Kong (US$ 607.8mn), Germany (US $ 372.7mn), Italy (US$ 335.7mn) etc.


Grades

This material is available in a number of grades depending on their application and method used in production process.

It is available in different forms of grades such as films, flame retardant, reinforced & stress crack resistant branched and others.

Various processes involved in the production of these different grades of material include:

  • Injection Molding
  • Structural Foam Molding
  • Extrusion
  • Vacuum Forming
  • Blow Molding

Manufacturing of Different Grades

PC material is transformed from pellets to their desired shape by melting and forcing it into under pressure into a mold. This pressure is repeated for more than thousand times.

Extrusion- Molten material is passed through a die to give it a shape & afterward it is cooled. Long sheets & pipe is created as a result of the process.

Molding- Melted form of material is pressed into molds of defined shapes and then cooled. This process is used for producing automotive & computer parts.


Application and Uses

Nowadays PC has become an important environment-friendly (recyclable) form of commercial polymer with a number of uses. It can also be blended with PVC, ABS even rubber to produce desired quality products.

It finds its usage in different industrial sectors for varied uses which include:

Electrical & Electronics

The largest market for these resins is primarily optical media (used in computers & compact disks), especially in The United States. It is further followed by usage in sheeting & glazing application and rest comprise of electronics.

Today, electronics market consume a maximum share of engineered plastics in different forms. Some of the examples of these resins application in the electronic market are:

  • Power distribution (covers & housing )
  • Connectors
  • Electrical appliances
  • Chargers
  • Lighting
  • Battery boxes etc.

Automotive

It has been more than fifty years of PC material being used in automotive parts. Its properties (lighter, stronger & durable) have made it an important material in manufacturing most of the automotive parts & accessories.

These applications include:

  • Lighting in automotive
  • Headlamp lenses
  • Dashboards
  • Exterior cladding
  • Exterior parts (bumpers & body panels)

Packaging

Most of the industries prefer this material for packaging of the products due to its low cost, recyclability, durability and easy availability. The prime industries using it for packaging are:

  • Baby products
  • Medical industries
  • Water dispensers (production & packaging)
  • Furniture installation
  • Sports goods
  • Garden equipment (production & packaging)

Medical

These materials are commonly being used for medical uses (devices & drugs).

These polymer grades are sterilized using steam at high temperatures, either through gamma radiation or ethylene oxide to be used in medical applications.

Recently, scientists at IBM Almaden Research Center have developed the aliphatic polycarbonates which have improved biocompatibility & degradability for nanomedicine uses.

Phones

Phone today has become one of the most important accessories of life. It is being produced & consumed on a very large scale globally.

Some major market players of smartphone are using this material in producing bodies of phones as it is light weight, durable and can be coated to avoid scratches.

These players include Nokia, Samsung, iPhone, Lumia and many others.

Niche Applications

It is a versatile product with attractive & useful physical, chemical, mechanical & thermal properties which expand its width for usage in different sectors. Some of these small applications of these resins in different sectors are:

  • Usage in injection molded watered bottles, glasses & food containers.
  • Being commonly used for eye protection (eye lenses majorly) & also in other projectile viewing and lighting applications.
  • Other than eye lenses, many other forms of lenses are produced using this material like automotive headlight lamp lenses, lighting lenses, sunglasses, swimming goggles & eyeglasses etc.
  • The windscreen of small motor vehicles like motorcycles, golf carts, small planes & even helicopters.
  • Sheet & films used for advertising in form of signs, displays & posters also involve usage of is Polycarbonate plastic resins.
  • LCD screens, Plasma screens, display screens and others have a high demand for polymers in producing these screens.
  • With increased incidences of glassing in clubs & pubs, the government has restricted usage of glasses in some countries. This restriction results in usage of PC glasses to serve alcohol as a replacement for normal glass.
  • Other small uses include- lightweight luggage, digital audio players & cases, computer cases, containers, blended jars, LEGO, flybar locks, radio controlled helicopters and many others.
  • It is also used as an anti UV layer as a special coating for improved weathering resistance in most of the countries.
  • They are being used as a printing substrate for nameplates & many other forms of industrial grade printing products.

Why is Polycarbonate used so often?

As the above-mentioned applications suggest it is an incredibly useful plastic for varying uses especially where transparency & high impact resistance is required.

Being a lighter alternative for a gloss it finds its most common application in eye ware. These resins are used for a number of other uses according to the suitability of properties like:

  • Clear windows for prototype models
  • Diffusers & light pipes primarily in LEDs
  • Clear tubes in sports equipment
  • Color tinted translucent kind of prototypes
  • Clear models for urethane & silicone casting
  • 3D printed models
  • Machinery guards

Thus, it is visible that tinted form of this material is often being used for reducing glare.


Disadvantages of Polycarbonate

Along with so many advantageous properties of this polymer material, there are also several disadvantages associated with its usages as it is susceptible towards scratching.

Though to avoid this drawback most of the products like lenses in a pair of glasses are coated with the scratch-resistant layer.


Is Polycarbonate Toxic in Nature?

There are possibilities that some types of these materials can be toxic in food contact situations because they might emit Bisphenol A (BPA) at the time of hydrolysis (degradation on material contact)

Most of these resins manufactured are produced by the combination of BPA & COC12 and are used for perishable food or water. There are two different studies available for its toxicity which suggests it can be toxic or not.

The studies done by government funding depict it can be hazardous to health & environment whereas, a study done by industrial funding say it has no medical risk involved.

Majorly risk associated with these resins are in their release so “BPA-Free” PC products (like food canning jars) are being produced to avoid the risk associated with human health.