Environmental concerns give phosphorus based FRS a good future
by Liz White, editor
Rising use of insulation to meet increasing demands for energy efficiency and to curb greenhouse gas emissions will fuel increase use of rigid polyurethane foam and in the process will also drive up use of flame retardants, according to Dr Oliver Vollmer, Lanxess’s director of marketing for phosphorus chemicals.
“At the same time, there are more and more regulations on FRs,” the Lanxess executive noted: “So I see a lot of moves towards phosphorus-based systems as opposed to halogen-based ones.” “Where the expectations of the market are clear is for increased demand for insulation.
That is one of the major themes of this event,” Vollmer continued, speaking 12 Oct at the CPI/UTECH meeting in Houston, Texas.
Expanding on this topic, Vollmer said: “Heating and lighting of buildings and public housing are major producers of CO2 emissions, and the trend is to cut these emissions by better insulation. This represents opportunities for insulation, whether PU or other types.” As insulation uses rises, so does use of flame retardants, Vollmer said, regardless of the specific FR solutions, phosphorus-based or otherwise.
But he feels there are very positive trends for increased use of phosphorus-based FRs, as made by Lanxess, because FRs based on halogens, including bromine, are under investigation for long-term problems of the materials produced when they burn, he said.
Vollmer sees no sign that the move to eliminate halogen-containing materials is abating. So while producers of brominated FRs are developing and producing new materials — new halogenated developments were reported at the CPI conference —and they will continue to be used short term, “from my perspective there is no long-term future for halogenated FRS,” Vollmer said.
“When you see what questions people are asking, it seems logical that, while these materials will survive ten, 15 years, in the long run, customers will look for less environmentally problematic solutions,” he commented.
Vollmer is the marketing manager for Lanxess’s phosphorus-based flame retardants, and here the company claims to have one of the broadest portfolios of these, aryl and alkyl types, which are classical FRs used in the polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride industries.
Lanxess uses its R&D laboratories, technical service and development to produce more unconventional FRs such as reactive ones, he said. The latest one is Levagard DMPP, with the highest phosphorus content and so the highest efficiency. This is commercially available and is a label-free product with niche applications, he said.
For polyurethane foams
In phosphorus-based FRs, Vollmer said, Lanxess has the broadest range for flexible PU foam, while for rigid PU foam, it has half-a-dozen products, including the Levagard DMPP, useful for very thin foams, for example in refrigerators, where space is limited, and the material needs the most efficient FR, Vollmer said.
Lanxess sees a good future for rigid PU foams in terms of energy saving and value throughout the life-cycle, Vollmer said, noting the life cycle analyses various raw materials makers have carried out to show overall savings in use. There is growing awareness of the value of good insulation, and the future is very positive for PU here, he added.
Other FR suppliers can offer all types, but many have a clear focus on halogenated materials, said the Lanxess executive. Vollmer feels Lanxess is now the only one with a sole focus on phosphorus-based FRs.
“We offer FR solutions and are focussing on what customers are really asking for, which is environmentally acceptable FRs,” he added.
“I am always promoting the fact that there are alternatives, cost-wise, efficiency-wise there are alternatives.” It is “often not known widely that there are non-halogen materials whether phosphorus-based or otherwise,” Vollmer said.
Lanxess’s approach is to “go to the customers to find out what their specific needs are in FRs, or other areas, and get an idea of the hurdles and the price questions,” and of the REACH implications and costs, and then try to develop a product to meet those needs.
Lanxess has seen a lot of Asian companies coming along with phosphorus-based FRs, so competition is growing, which “makes life interesting,” he added. “It was a tough challenge when Asian companies first came along with cheaper products, but we did our homework, cut costs wherever we could, improved our supply position, really worked hard to remain competitive and that worked for Lanxess,” he explained.
Lanxess has done a good job since Bayer hived it off, in repositioning the entire business, Vollmer noted.
For example, the phosphorus chemicals business was an internal provider to Bayer’s crop science unit and of FRs to the polymers business. That meant it supplied FRs without having an overview of the market. As a seller on the open market, “We had to evaluate the whole business and assess the potential for new routes and strategies,” Vollmer said.
And the operation has totally changed its position in the market, with options to capture new business, Vollmer commented. “Lanxess’s three units [Performance Polymers, Advanced Intermediates and Performance Chemicals] are its core businesses now, ones that it really cares about, wants to invest in and grow, to see how they develop,” he added.
Positive trends for phosphorus-based flame retardants
Lanxess total sales in 2009 €5057 million, a 23 % drop from 2008, and earnings (EBITDA) €465 million, a 35.6% drop from 2008.
Performance Polymers €2388 million Advanced Intermediates €1104 million Performance Chemicals €1539 million
Verbund in Phosphorus
As well as being the largest producer of synthetic rubber globally, Lanxess makes advanced intermediates and has a performance chemicals segment also. The latter is where the phosphorus chemicals fit.
Lanxess operates one the largest integrated production structures — a ‘Verbund’ for phosphorus chemicals in Germany with integrated production of phosphorus chemicals.
“We are really proud of this,” said Vollmer.
Lanxess makes various phosphorus chemicals, including phosphorus oxychloride (POCl3) and phosphorus trichloride (PCl3), some of them dangerous materials. All these materials are handled using closed pipework, so that no materials escape to the atmosphere, and it does not have to pass these dangerous chemicals around the site, he said. A lot of effort goes into logistics, Vollmer stressed.
Phosphorus-based chemicals are used widely in pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals (Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience are all large users of POCl3/PCl3.
Using these phosphorus chemicals “we produce a wide variety of phosphorus intermediates,” Vollmer said.